Monday, May 10, 2010

Reactions To WFSE's Endorsement Conference

I haven't commented on the decisions made at WFSE's biennial Endorsement Conference, held on April 17, because Tim covered it well in the Hotline. The bottom line is out of more than 130 races considered, delegates voted to make just 27 endorsements -- including just 18 incumbent House members and one incumbent Senator.

Olympian reporter Brad Shannon wrote about our early endorsements in his blog, and again in a story that ran in several newspapers around the state. These articles have been circulated widely among political circles and, needless to say, we've been getting a lot of "feedback" since then. We've received quite a few phone calls and e-mails from insiders reacting to the decisions our members made, as well as numerous reports of Legislators who have been trashing us behind our backs.

Publicly, the Olympian followed up with an editorial a couple of weeks later speculating that WFSE members simply can't afford to withhold support from majority Democrats in the long run:

"To say [WFSE members] are unhappy is an understatement. But we suspect the union’s peevish behavior is more show than substance at this point. By fall we would expect union workers to fall into place and line up behind at least some of the Democrats they have snubbed.

What option do they have? Endorse a long slate of Republicans? That’s not likely... Slashing state jobs and forcing state employees to pay higher medical insurance premiums will remain high on the Republicans’ priority list...

For now, the Washington Federation of State Employees have sent a message to Democrats that union support is not a given. If they continue to withhold their support for Democrats, they could be inviting a Republican-controlled Legislature. For traditional allies that is... playing with fire."

Personally, I think the Olympian's editorial is fair, and I don't disagree with the premise. The idea that while the Democrats have been harmful to our members, the Republicans would be worse is the best possible counter-argument to our members' decision to give an early endorsement to just a handful of Legislators.

From the perspective of the delegates to the Endorsement Conference, the critical question is not which candidate is the "least worst" option. Instead, what they want to know is where were these Legislators when we were under attack? Were they one of the attackers? Did they sit quietly while other legislators were trashing us? Were they more concerned about protecting their chairmanship, or winning elections, or "keeping their powder dry" then they were about doing the right thing?

State employees are an easy target and everyone from the corporate elite to the intellectually challenged love nothing more than to malign public servants. We don't poll well, and we realize that. Of course, the public depends on the critical services we provide and maintaining a qualified work force is essential to the job. Yet there are very few elected officials who have the courage or the insight to rise above bumper-sticker politics enough to make sure the government is even capable of effectively implementing the programs we all care about.

A great example of the gratuitous knee-jerk reaction can be found in a recent editorial in the Columbian. According to the Columbian, WFSE members should receive "jeers" for withholding endorsements of incumbent Democrats because "the majority Democrats (traditionally the union’s closest friends) cut too much from the budget. They are especially unhappy about the Legislature imposing a few furlough days for some state workers... What the union should realize is that many voters see these state workers as suffering from a recessionary hangnail while many voters have a broken arm or worse. While many taxpayers would agree the Democrats shirked their duty, it’s hardly because the state isn’t spending enough."

The Columbian's analysis is so ignorant and shallow that I'm not going to waste my time responding. But there is one point on which we need to be clear: our members' anger with the Legislature runs far deeper than budget cuts or furloughs. We understand there is a global economic crisis, and we realize state workers will have to endure some cuts as a result. But what is more troubling to our members are the fundamental philosophical disagreements we have with many Legislators.

We have endured two sessions of constant attacks. There have been repeated calls for increased privatization, re-opening collective bargaining agreements, amending collective bargaining laws, eliminating step increases, increasing health care costs, closing institutions, opposing bills to help workers form a union, and more. And this was just from the Democrats. The Republicans, by and large, have spent the past two sessions attacking the Democrats for not treating state workers worse.

We expected to be confronted with budget cuts and compensation reductions. We didn't expect to find out that large numbers of the elected officials whom we have supported in the past -- from the Governor, to almost all of the Senate, and including a large number of Representatives -- simply don't share our values. Whether we have been mistaken or mislead, the bottom line is we just don't agree.

Frankly, I think the "controversy" is lacking in substance. Those politicians who supported privatizing child welfare services, who fought to close DOC, JRA or DD institutions, who demanded furloughs or benefit cuts as a condition of a budget vote, or who opposed worker privacy and union organizing bills, should not be surprised to find they have lost our support. They have made it abundantly clear they disagree with us, and our members want to limit their support to candidates they agree with. What's so controversial about that? -- Dennis

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