Miller: No sweat for House Democrats on anti-labor votes
By Rich Miller www.thecapitolfaxblog.com June 18, 2012 8:14PM
Updated: August 23, 2012 9:54AM
Only a few House Democrats targeted for defeat by the Republicans were endorsed by the Illinois AFL-CIO last week, but the damage to the Democratic Party’s chances this fall will likely be minimal.
Organized labor’s umbrella organization met in Springfield last week to make endorsements in state legislative and other races. The AFL-CIO turned a strong thumbs down to some suburban House Democrats who supported pension changes and voted to cut health insurance coverage for state retirees.
Labor fought pitched battles on several fronts this spring. Public employee pensions and health insurance coverage were the most visible.
Unlike neighboring states such as Indiana, organized labor has worked well with both parties here, and has historically been able to fend off the sort of attacks that Indiana’s unions were unable to when Hoosier legislators passed a so-called “right to work” bill this year.
In contrast to what occurred in Wisconsin last year, there were no massive protests this year in Springfield while the General Assembly considered changes to state workers’ benefit plans. That’s mainly because the unions were at the bargaining table here as opposed to being shut out up north. But labor still didn’t get what it wanted in Illinois, and some union leaders were furious.
AFSCME, which represents state employees, and other unions were hoping to withhold labor’s endorsement from several House incumbents and candidates because of the fights over pensions and retiree health care. The public employee unions were only partially successful.
Just three downstate House Democrats who are heavily targeted for defeat by the Republicans received labor’s nod — Pat Verschoore (D-Milan), Dan Beiser (D-Alton) and Jerry Costello II (D-Smithton). Unions are still pretty strong in those districts and are considered important to election outcomes, so House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) pushed unions hard for their endorsements.
But some suburban Democrats were left without labor’s backing. Reps. Fred Crespo (D-Hoffman Estates), Michelle Mussman (D-Schaumburg) and Carol Sente (D-Vernon Hills) were not endorsed. One top labor official said the unions withheld endorsements in those races as a warning to others that the AFL-CIO will not blindly follow the Democratic Party down its current conservative path.
However, those three Democrats represent suburban districts where organized labor is not hugely important, and some of those incumbents may eventually get backing from individual unions that are locally influential.
Ironically enough, Rep. Elaine Nekritz, who has played a key role in negotiating pension and health insurance changes for public employees and retirees, was endorsed by the AFL-CIO. Nekritz (D-Northbrook) is facing a fairly serious challenge this fall, and she’s also in the process of becoming a top Madigan lieutenant.
Some of the biggest election battles in the House will be in “open” districts where no incumbents are running, and labor endorsed Democratic candidates in several of those districts. The AFL-CIO also supported several Democrats who are challenging GOP incumbents.
For instance, Scott Drury (D-Highwood), who was running against Republican Lauren Turelli for retiring Rep. Karen May’s seat until Turelli dropped out last week, was endorsed, Stephanie Kifowit (D-Aurora) and Sue Scherer (D-Decatur) — both of whom are running in hotly contested, newly created districts — were endorsed.
Katherine Cloonen (D-Kankakee), who is running to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Lisa Dugan, got the thumbs up from the AFL-CIO. Jeremy Ly (D-Minooka), who’s up against GOP Rep. Pam Roth (R-Morris), received the nod, as did Sam Yingling (D-Round Lake Beach) and Mike Smiddy (D-Hillsdale), both of whom are challenging Republican incumbents.
Labor also endorsed state Rep. Angelo “Skip” Saviano, who’s being targeted heavily for defeat by House Democrats. Saviano (R-Elmwood Park) usually gets labor’s endorsement, so it was no surprise.
The news was even better for Senate Democrats. All of their most heavily targeted incumbents were endorsed, despite the fact that the Senate passed a pension reform bill affecting state workers.
Also, no Senate Republican incumbents or candidates were endorsed. And the more important Democratic challengers to sitting Republicans or in open-seat contests also received organized labor’s support.
The bottom line is that House Democrats barely got a slap on the wrist for what they did this spring to antagonize labor interests. It will take a much sterner rebuke from AFSCME and the teacher unions if those Democrats are to get any sort of “real” message from organized labor.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.