Policy: Labor

Why Big Labor backs Terry McAuliffe

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Virginia,Columnists,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Labor,Terry McAuliffe,Ken Cuccinelli,Texas,2014 Elections,2016 Elections,Analysis,AFL-CIO

AFL-CIO officials announced earlier this year their plan for a major push starting in 2014 to turn famously red Texas into a blue state.

At first blush, Big Labor's plan might sound hopelessly unrealistic. Rick Perry's Texas? Liberal? But just a few years ago, it would have seemed similarly deluded to say the same thing about Virginia. Not anymore.

In fact, Big Labor is honing skills in the Old Dominion right now it will need to succeed in the Lone Star State. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe has received nearly $2 million from Big Labor, about 10 percent of the $18 million he’s raised overall.

It’s not just cash, either. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, much of the union funds are in-kind contributions for staff, phone banks, voter canvasing and related labor-intensive get-out-the-vote efforts.

They are not doing this because McAuliffe is strong on union issues. Quite the opposite: the former Democratic National Committee chairman has a spotty record on labor issues and has pointedly distanced himself from them in some respects.

Contrary to claims by Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli, McAuliffe has repeatedly said Virginia would remain a right-to-work state under his administration.

That means workers would not be forced to join a union or pay dues to one as a condition of employment — a prohibition that unions hate.

Similarly, McAuliffe has refused to say if he would back “project labor agreements” for state construction projects. These are deals where state contracts require workers to be paid union-level wages even if they aren’t unionized.

Then again, McAuliffe hasn’t ruled them out either. Instead, he has offered bland statements like: “I’m going to work with management. I’m going to work with labor. I’m going to work with everybody to move Virginia forward.”

That’s good enough for Big Labor — for now. Just getting a seat at the table would be a step up for them.

Virginia was once a solidly conservative red state. It has been trending steadily more purple over the last few decades as the federal government grew, with many of its workers living in the state.

Northern Virginia — which is essentially a Washington, D.C., suburb — has seen explosive growth. That has balanced out the southern, conservative sections that once dominated state politics.

That expansion has brought in both more Democratic-leaning white collar voters and more ethnic voters as well. Caucasians have gone from 76 percent of the population in 1990 to 64 percent last year.

Democrats have clearly benefited from this shift. Republicans have been slow to react. The last time Cuccinelli lead in a poll was in July. RealClearPolitics.com now gives McAuliffe a 6.7 point lead.

Big Labor is hoping that a similar growth shift involving Texas’ Latino population will do the same thing there. “The demographics and potential political change [create] a long-term strategic possibility,” AFL-CIO lawyer Craig Becker told the Nation in August.

The key words there are “long-term.” Even in a state that has trended leftward like Virginia, that only means it has become competitive for nonconservatives, not that anybody from the Left can win.

A radically pro-labor candidate like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., would likely lose in Virginia. But a relative moderate like McAuliffe can win.

Yes, these are small, incremental gains, but the payoff is worth it. Virginia, like Texas, is a major cornerstone of the Electoral College majority that Republicans must have to win the White House.

Without either state, the presidency will likely be out of GOP hands for a long, long time.

It is certainly a smarter strategy than the conservative movement’s current obsession with grand, futile gestures and attacking the moderates inside its own coalition.

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