Page 26


POLITIC .kL Union Brawls & Down-Ballot Dispatches THE UNION BRAND Conventional wisdom is taking a beating this primary. Texas Democrats don’t matter in presidential contests, they said. They do this year. Unions are obsolete in the Lone Star State, they said. Not when it comes to the March 4 presidential primary. While many expect that the most political activity by a union outside of the Iowa caucus this Democratic presidential primary season will occur in Ohio, Texas could well be third in importance. A number of unions have parachuted organizers into the state to mobilize their memberships on behalf of either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. The two current heavyweights in this fight are the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees for Obama. In some ways, the campaign is an extension of an historic conflict between the two. SEIU has a reputation for aggressive organizing; AFSCME has complained that its rival union has tried to poach its members. In 2005, they signed a two-year pact that, according to AFSCME, forbade either side from “raiding, decertifying or otherwise interfering with existing representation rights of our members.” AFSCME may have as many as 100 organizers fanning out around Texas, according to one union source. The pressure is on AFSCME president Gerald McEntee to deliver a victory for Clinton and silence the rumbling within his own ranks over past mistakes. In 2004, AFSCME invested resources and gave a high-profile endorsement to Howard Dean. After the infamous scream and the implosion of the Dean candidacy, McEntee told The New York Times he thought Dean was “nuts.” Expect AFSCME to be in overdrive for Clinton throughout the campaign. Joining AFSCME for Team Clinton will be the American Federation of Teachers, the National Association of Letter Carriers, the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, and the machinists, bricklayers, and painters. Together they represent approximately 90,000 members in Texas. National SEIU formally endorsed Obama as the Observer went to press. The union has locals in Houston, San Antonio, and the Rio Grande Valley. A SEIU spokesperson said they didn’t know how many organizers would be on the ground yet, but that the campaign would involve media as well as grassroots efforts, including activities by members in the Justice for Janitors campaign in Houston. The Metroplex could be the biggest labor battleground in the state. A Texas Credit Union League poll showed Democrats in the Dallas-Fort Worth area split between the two candidates. The Obama campaign has opened three offices in the area. CLUTCHING COATTAILS It was not lost on politicos in the Rio Grande Valley that state Rep. Aaron Pena was the first to announce Hillary Clinton’s arrival to the area. Pena says that he has raised money for the Clintons in the past and has known them for years. He is also close to former land commissioner Garry Mauro, who had lined up early endorsements in the Valley for the New York senator. Pena says that since Clinton didn’t have anyone on the ground, he filled in, but took a back seat once her campaign became more established. Pena needs all the boost he can get from Clinton’s support and star power in his grudge rematch with challenger Eddie Saenz to represent District 40. Saenz has also endorsed Clinton and boasts that four out of five mayors in the district have endorsed him. He believes that the high turnout expected in the primary will benefit him. “Our theme is change and a new direction, and this is helping me out,” he says. The incumbent, Pena, counterintuitively, is painting Saenz as part of a political machine. He says higher turnout will help him overcome those “who are paid to vote.” When they last locked horns in the 2004 primary, Saenz hit Pena from the right for not getting enough done. Peha painted his opponent as a closet Republican. Then the incumbent signed on with Republican Speaker Tom Craddick. Now, Saenz, an engineer and successful businessman, has attacked Pena for being too close to leadership. “He has become what he accused me of being,” Saenz says. “Austin is trying to dictate rather than us going up to Austin and trying to get what we need.” Saenz is already pointing to the campaign cash his opponent has received from Republican contributors outside the district. “I don’t believe the House of Representatives ought to be a millionaires’ club,” says Pena. “I have to take money where I can.” HARDSCRABBLE HOUSTON Loyalties are funny things. One of the most competitive Democratic races this primary is for House District 140. Incumbent Kevin Bailey, a longtime liberal, has supported Republican Speaker Tom Craddick. He’s a charter member of the so-called Craddick Ds. Plenty of money from Craddick’s corporate cronies has found its way to Bailey. Last session Bailey managed to get a key labor provision passed into law that is giving unions their first shot at collective bargaining for municipal workers in Houston. The unions are promising to return the favor and provide manpower for his re-election. The Texas Trial Lawyers have backed his opponent, a young up-and-corner born and raised in the district named Armando Walle. “[The trial lawyers] let me know in May that if I didn’t vote to take Craddick out I’d have an opponent,” Bailey says. 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER FEBRUARY 22, 2008