Democrats lose love of state workers
BRAD SHANNON; Staff writer
One of Washington’s largest state worker unions withheld endorsements for incumbent Democrats in the state Senate, delivering a swift rebuke over the weekend to its traditional friends.
The Washington Federation of State Employees took the rare step Saturday at its early endorsement convention in Seattle and said it was over employee health care coverage and cuts in the just-passed state budget. The move hits a traditional political ally of the union in what could be a tough election year.
The federation, which represents about 40,000 workers, also endorsed 18 House members and 16 of the 61 Democrats in the majority. Its lone senatorial endorsement was a maverick Republican, Sen. Pam Roach of Auburn, who is often at odds with her own party on internal issues.
“We hold the entire Senate responsible for how they handled the budget. … That is why there were no Democratic (Senate) incumbents endorsed,” federation spokesman Tim Welch said Monday. “The one Republican we endorsed is the one the Republicans don’t want (Pam Roach). We want her; we like her a lot.”
Welch said Roach, who has built one of the least labor-unfriendly records among Senate GOP members, made a behind-the-scenes effort to save Rainier School from closure in Buckley.
The leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus campaign committee, Sen. Karen Keiser of Kent, took the rebuke in stride Monday.
“I consider it a spanking or a slap in the face. It doesn’t hurt me personally. I can take a hit or two,” Keiser, the chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, said.
“If they like to play with fire, that’s fine. I wonder if they had a different majority to work with, if they’d be doing real well next year,” Keiser added with sarcasm. “There were several (GOP) initiatives to do all sorts of nefarious things from the other side of the aisle (on employee benefits and labor issues). If that’s what they prefer, then they’ve made their bed.”
And as for endorsing Roach, Keiser said: “I think that it’s ridiculous and stupid. Because Pam Roach is a good 26th vote, OK? It means diddle squat. It is lip service and it isn’t consequential to the outcome” on specific legislation.
It’s still too early to say what hard effects the early endorsements have for incumbent Democrats. Rank-and-file workers took a stay-on-the-sidelines approach in 1994 after budget cuts rankled them, and Democrats lost the state House entirely.
It’s also unclear whether the action encourages harder-line Democrats to challenge sitting Senate or House members in Democrat-heavy districts.
Welch said the federation expects to take its position on endorsements one step further at the Washington State Labor Council’s endorsement meeting May 15 in south Seattle. The council has its own agenda for withholding support from disloyal Democrats – having created a Don’t Invest In More Excuses (DIME) political action committee after the 2009 session.
Before lending doorbelling and financial support to candidates this fall, DIME PAC is expected to look at how strongly lawmakers fought for labor’s agenda.
Welch said the federation slapped harder at the Senate because it was the body that pushed hardest for furloughs, for closure of state institutions such as the Maple Lane School in Grand Mound and downsizing McNeil Island Corrections Center; and it also pushed for a lower level of funding for employee health care.
In the end state employees were spared some of the harshest cuts, although nearly $50 million in state payroll reductions will be required through furloughs or others actions by state agencies.
In fact, state workers are expected to avoid any further increases in out-of-pocket health care costs for calendar year 2011 as a result of a House-backed push to put a $65 million subsidy into programs managed by the Public Employees Benefits Board.
OTHER BUDGET CUTS
Employees are being hit in other ways. Job cuts in the supplemental budget are expected to total 1,534 in general government and higher education ranks, on top of nearly 3,700 eliminated in the original 2009-11 budget adopted last year, according to Senate Democrats’ estimates.
Who received union support
Among Washington Federation of State Employees’ endorsements were Democrat Craig Pridemore in the 3rd Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Adam Smith in the 9th, and incumbent Democratic Reps. Norm Dicks, Jim McDermott and Rick Larsen. The federation also supports U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.
Among state House members, it supports Republican Reps. Tom Campbell of Roy and Skip Priest of Federal Way and Democratic Reps. Sam Hunt of Olympia, Steve Conway of Tacoma, Tami Green of Lakewood, Sherry Appleton of Poulsbo, Mark Miloscia of Federal Way, Geoff Simpson of Covington and Pat Sullivan of Covington.
The federation also opposed Tim Eyman’s latest tax initiative, I-1053; the state builders’ I-1082 to privatize workers compensation insurance; and initiatives in the works to privatize liquor sales.