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August 14, 2013 12:11 PM Where the Action Is

By Ed Kilgore

This item from USAToday’s Paul Singer must have come as rude news to some Beltway folks obsessed with the betting odds of a Republican takeover of the Senate next year:

Labor unions are likely to focus much of their political attention in 2014 on unseating Republican governors in key states, rather than a major push for House and Senate candidates, a top union political strategist said Tuesday.
Speaking with reporters in Washington, AFL-CIO Political Director Michael Podhorzer said that with the outlook for federal policymaking being mostly “gridlock” for the past two years, state politics is “the area that is going to be most consequential for people’s lives.”

Hard to argue with that, or with the AFL-CIO’s initial hit list:

Podhorzer singled out six Republican governors the unions are likely to focus on: Scott Walker of Wisconsin; John Kasich in Ohio; Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania; Michigan’s Rick Snyder; Maine’s Paul LePage and Rick Scott of Florida. All of the governors have had battles with unions in their states, most notably Walker, who survived a recall vote after pushing though legislation to curtail bargaining rights of public employee unions….
“All of them have in one way or the other slashed the safety net and education in their states, have pursued tax breaks and other benefits for the affluent,” Podhorzer said, and many of them have passed voter ID measures that may make it harder for opponents to get to the polls.
Those races are also in states where unions have a strong presence, while some of the key Senate races that may determine party control in Washington are in states without significant union strongholds, like Louisiana and Arkansas.

Of the six targeted governors, it’s generally thought that Corbett and LePage are pretty toasty; Scott and Snyder are very vulnerable; Kasich has risen from the mat and could be tough to beat; and Walker is pretty strong, though there’s always that chance he’ll be bitten by the presidential bug and won’t run for another term or will be fatally distracted. I’m sure there are other Republican governors who will appear on labor’s radar screen as well if they show weakness, notably South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, who seems to think collective bargaining should be illegal.

But the targeting of state races by the AFL-CIO makes perfect sense to me, particularly until such time as we have a better idea which Senate races where will be crucial. We’ve just had a re-education over the last two years about the risks of thinking of state races as afterthoughts, and it goes far beyond the usual Beltway stuff about “building a bench,” as though state government is some sort of minor league where people kill time until they are ready for The Show. As I used to say in speeches explaining our system of federalism to small-town civic club audiences in Georgia, the federal government fights wars and writes checks and regs. Most of everything else we think of as “government” happens down the road. It’s very often where the action is.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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