Public union’s political director: Members to be ‘pivotal’ for Dems in Midwest races

By Kevin Bogardus – 09/02/12 06:00 AM ET

The political director for the nation’s largest public sector union said its members will prove “pivotal” in Midwestern swing states – including Wisconsin — for President Obama and Democrats come the November elections.

Brian Weeks, as the new political director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), told The Hill that state-level battles over public workers’ collective bargaining rights have fired up the union’s members for the fall campaign.

“It’s definitely one of the areas where we will be pivotal. We have a lot of membership in those Rust Belt states,” Weeks said. “The battles our members fought in Ohio, Wisconsin as well as Michigan have kept them engaged and ready for these coming elections.”

Weeks has been on the job for about a month after stepping into the shoes of Larry Scanlon, who retired earlier this year after spending nearly 17 years as AFSCME’s political director. 

Before taking on the top political spot at AFSCME, Weeks was an assistant political director for the union and once worked with the Democratic National Committee during the 2004 elections to help run the party’s political operation in Wisconsin. Weeks first joined AFSCME in 2002 as its Wisconsin political and legislative director.

The Wisconsin native comes from Clinton, which is in Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) congressional district and near the Republican vice presidential nominee’s hometown of Janesville.

“I prefer to think of that district as Les Aspin’s old district, not Paul Ryan’s,” Weeks joked, referring to the late Democratic congressman who served 12 terms in the House and was President Bill Clinton’s first Defense Secretary.

Weeks’ state became the battleground between labor and Republicans this year.

In 2011, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) pushed through legislation to ban collective bargaining rights for some public workers. Labor suffered a huge loss earlier this year when they failed to oust Walker (R) in a recall effort and the governor was greeted as a hero at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

But that has triggered a counter-reaction among union members still sore from Walker’s victory. Weeks said AFSCME has seen more of its members want to get involved in politics this year.

More than 30,000 AFSCME members in battleground states have become activists for the union this election cycle, according to the political director. For the first time, those members have written letters, knocked on doors or handed out fliers to voters — helping provide the fuel for the union’s political machine.

The public sector union is a vital ally for Democrats. Having endorsed President Obama, AFSCME will help complement the party’s efforts in several key swing states to keep him in the White House.

AFSCME will be active in several states. Weeks mentioned Ohio and Florida as places where the union could be particularly helpful, due to its large membership and honed political operations in those states.

Along with the presidential race, AFSCME plans to be active in many Senate races and more than two dozen House races.

It’s not just federal races AFSCME is weighing in on though. They plan to engage in gubernatorial races in Montana, New Hampshire and Washington, campaign on ballot initiatives in California and play in Minnesota state legislative races, among others. Weeks rattled off the names of several GOP governors who have gone after unions in the past, in response to why these state races are so important.

“The fights that we have seen and the attacks from Scott Walker and John Kasich [Ohio] and Rick Snyder [Michigan] show us how important these state battles are to us,” Weeks said.

For its political program to support chosen candidates, Weeks said AFCSME members will phone-bank and walk neighborhoods to talk to voters. Further, the union will sponsor radio and television ads with independent expenditures in some races. But unlike other unions, AFSCME is not planning to found its own super-PAC yet.

“Not right now,” Weeks said. “We are able to do what we need to do right now with our own independent expenditures and working with the AFL-CIO’s super-PAC, Workers’ Voice.”

As campaign season heats up after Labor Day, Weeks is positive yet wary.

“I’m confident that President Obama will win reelection but we are taking nothing for granted,” Weeks said.

Author: AFGE Local 704

Representing over 900 bargaining unit employees working at the U.S. EPA Region 5 Offices in Chicago, Ann Arbor, MI and Westlake, OH.

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