Union Members Revved Up for 2008 Elections, Leaders Say


Off-year election results in state and municipal races on Nov. 6 show union voters are already energized for 2008, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney says. And they also show unionists and the country want "a clear rejection of Bush administration policies," adds federation Political Director Karen Ackerman.

Ackerman, Sweeney and others spoke in a telephone press conference after election returns came in from New Jersey local races, the Virginia legislature, gubernatorial contests in Kentucky and Mississippi, mayoral races in several large cities and ballot initiatives in many states.

The most notable results were in "red" states. In Kentucky, former Lieut. Gov. Steve Beshear (D), making his first statewide race in 20 years, handily ousted scandal-scarred GOP Gov. Ernie Fletcher. Beshear's margin was around 20%.

In Utah, one of the "reddest" states for GOP President George W. Bush in 2004, the Utah Education Association and its allies waged a successful campaign to defeat a plan to give taxpayer-paid vouchers to attend private schools to the parents of every child in the state, destroying public education.

Vouchers, passed early in the year by the GOP-run state legislature -- but only by one vote in the state house -- lost by a 62%-38% margin and lost every Utah county.

In Virginia, where unionists are only 4 percent of the workforce, their get-out-the-vote efforts, phone banks and precinct walking helped overcome GOP campaigning against immigrants. Virginians ousted 5 GOP state senators, changing party control there to the Democrats for the first time since 1991, and cut the GOP margin in the state assembly. In New Jersey, 33 more unionists joined 400 already elected to local offices.

Sweeney, Ackerman and Karen White, campaigns and elections director of the independent National Education Association -- the nation's largest union -- particularly cited the Kentucky and Utah results as evidence of the energy among unionists. Ackerman and Sweeney predicted it would carry over into 2008.

"There were 350,000 union voters out of a total of 1.05 million in Kentucky," Ackerman said, including unionists, members of their households, retirees and 50,000 Kentucky members of Working America, the AFL-CIO's affiliate for people who do not have union locals. "And 77% voted for Beshear. That's an astounding number."

In Kentucky and Virginia "we're gearing up for Senate races" and the presidential race next year, she added. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kent.), who has $9 million in the bank and who has won past elections easily, faces Bluegrass State voters next year. Virginia's GOP-held U.S. Senate seat is open.

"Working people are driving a major change in the political landscape. We're on the cusp of a shift that could redefine American politics for decades to come," Sweeney predicted. Voters, he added, "sent a powerful message that if you attack working people, you do so at your peril."

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