Labor announces plan to unseat 5 GOP governors

Editors’ Note: A large number of anti-union websites have been generating misleading reports about labor’s plans for the 2014 elections that are not accurate.

The headline on an earlier version of this story read, “Labor to spend $300 million to unseat 5 GOP governors.” While the figure for expected spending on the 2014 elections by the labor movement is accurate, the impression that all the money will be spent on just the gubernatorial races is not. As the article points out there are five gubernatorial battleground states that will be the main focus of labor’s election effort but Senate and House races will also be included.

Mike Podhorzer, the AFL-CIO’s political director, said he expected labor’s spending in the 2014 elections to exceed what labor spent in 2010 and that that figure, based on public filings, was, for all unions, about $300 million.

It should also be noted that right wing bloggers are trying to leave the impression that the AFL-CIO is some type of “Big Labor” outfit, unaccountable to no one but itself and that it can just pull $300 million out of a hat and throw it at whatever election race it feels is appropriate. When the Peoples World uses the term “labor” in the context of this article it is referring to all unions and all union members. Funds for political action are generated by millions of union members in countless local unions all across the country, not be a few leaders plotting somewhere behind the scenes.

HOUSTON – At least $300 million will be spent by unions this year to unseat five GOP governors up for reelection in November, to prevent a Republican takover of the Senate and to defeat a number of House Republicans.

The governors targeted for defeat are Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott, Michigan’s Gov. Rick Snyder, Ohio’s Gov. John Kasich, Pennsylvania’s Gov. Tom Corbett and Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker.

The announcement of the list of gubernatorial battleground states was made at a press conference here this morning by Lee Saunders, chairman of the AFL-CIO’s political committee and by Mike Podhorzer, the federation’s political director. They made the announcement outside a meeting here of the AFL-CIO executive council which has been deliberating in Houston since Tuesday.

After the announcement, when Podhorzer was asked to discuss how much money labor would spend on the effort, he said he expected the dollar amount to exceed what unions spent in the 2010 midterm elections. The amount spent then, he said, was about $300 million.

Saunders and Podhorzer also said that maintaining Democratic control of the U.S. Senate would be an aim of the labor movement in the coming midterm elections. Podhorzer said that labor will put resources into eight states where Democratic incumbents face challenges and two states where Republicans can be defeated. He identified the eight states where labor would defend incumbent Democrats as West Virginia, Montana, Michigan, Louisiana, Iowa, Alaska, Arkansas and North Carolina and two states, Kentucky and Georgia, as the states where it was possible to defeat incumbent Republicans. (Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Minority Leader in the Senate, for example, faces a serious challenge in Kentucky from Democrat Allison Lundergan Grimes.)

Although no one here is saying that labor is giving up on wresting the House from Republican control, “the House is a real challenge,” Podhorzer said. “Polls show that the generic House Democratic candidate is, at this point, one percentage point ahead of the generic Republican. To have a shot at ending Republican control of the House, due to the outrageous gerrymandering, we’d need to be 7 points ahead. But we’re not giving up on making gains, particularly in the battleground states.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said her union was fully in support of the decision to focus on state races.

“In many ways it is difficult to get anything done in Washington,” she said. “In states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida a war is being waged against the people and their standard of living. The states are where the people live and we want to focus on where the people are.”

Labor intends to bring into those state level races a sharp focus on the issue of wages.

“All of our work in these elections,” Trumka said, “will be done in the framework of raising wages. We’ve just had polling done that shows conclusively that voters see their lives and political leaders through the lens of what those lawmakers are doing to raise wages and strengthen their livelihoods.”

Trumka was referring to a Hart Research poll done from Feb. 8 to 11 in the five gubernatorial battleground states selected by the labor movement.

Dissatisfaction with the economy, especially stagnant incomes, the poll found, is widespread in the five states and is weighing down approval ratings for GOP governors. Three in five voters say they are dissatisfied with the economic situation in their state. Those who are very dissatisfied outnumbered the very satisfied by a five to one ratio (25 percent to 5 percent).

The poll shows the issue of raising workers’ wages could play a major role in 2014 races with Democrats standing to gain considerably if they give the issue a prominent place in their campaigns.

Across the five battleground states, 61 percent of voters feel that it should be an extremely important priority for the governor and legislature to “make sure that people are paid enough to support their families (saying 9 or 10 on a scale of 0-10). This is a far higher priority for voters than conservatives’ priority of reducing taxes.

Labor leaders gathered here this week are saying that there is a chance that the labor movement will do a lot better in the 2014 midterm elections than in did in the disastrous 2010 elections that saw the tea party swept into power in many districts around the country. ” It’s no small thing if we help remove those five governors and hold the Senate,” said Podhorzer. “And we now have an infrastructure of connection to all kinds of movements that we didn’t have then (in 2010),” Podhorzer said. “In 2010 we were talking almost exclusively to members of unions. This time, labor and its allies have learned a big lesson. We are all working together on this election, and we are talking to everyone, not just union members.”

Photo: Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker is one of five GOP governors that the labor movement has targeted for defeat this year. AP

Correction: The headline and lead in an earlier version of this article has been changed to reflect more accurately that the money unions plan to spend on 2014 elections will include governors, Senate and House races. (See editor’s note at beginning of the article.)


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.