Monday Fix

The Monday Fix: Trumka Hopes to Mend AFL-CIO

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka is virtually assured of being the group's next president.
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka is virtually assured of being the group's next president. (By Manuel Balce Ceneta -- Associated Press)

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By Chris Cillizza
Monday, July 13, 2009

Can Richard Trumka reunite the labor movement?

That's the operative question being asked everywhere in Washington these days as Trumka, who is the secretary-treasurer of the massive labor organization, readies himself to be its new president when the unions gather in Pittsburgh in mid-September.

To date, Trumka, who announced his candidacy formally late last week, has no opposition for the top job, which John Sweeney is vacating after 14 years. And, according to several informed labor sources, there is no one waiting in the wings who can seriously challenge Trumka for the job.

With Trumka's election virtually ensured, the central question is whether he can heal the rift that occurred four years ago when the Service Employees International Union and the Teamsters (among others) left the AFL-CIO to form a new labor coalition known as Change to Win.

Trumka, in a recent interview with the Fix, was puzzled over the reasons behind the fracture. "First they said it was because we did too much political action [and] that obviously wasn't the case since everyone spent a lot of time on political action," he said. "Then they said we didn't spent enough time on organizing."

Regardless of the reasons for the split, Trumka says his background prepares him well for the task of reunification. Elected as the head of the United Mine Workers in the early 1980s, Trumka helped unite warring factions within the group and bring it under the AFL-CIO umbrella. "Over the years, I've had a fairly successful record of bringing people together," he said.

The other factor working in favor of reunification, Trumka said, is that 70 percent of the local unions whose national arm broke off from the AFL-CIO still affiliate with it locally. "The split never occurred at the grass-roots level, which is a good thing," he noted.

Others are more skeptical about Trumka's ability to unite the clans, largely because of the desire of the renegade unions not to rejoin the AFL-CIO structure and because of Trumka's loyalty to that structure.

"Over time there could be a fully united labor movement -- because everyone recognizes that we are stronger together -- but the devil is in the details," said one source close to the labor movement. "And Trumka's election makes it harder for that to happen."

Trumka senses the challenge before him but says he thinks that ultimately the two sides will unite. "It's more than just unity of name, it's unity of purpose," he said. "The strength for workers comes when we have unity of purpose."

Can Rust Be Gold?

Looking for a place where the Republican comeback -- if there is one -- might happen in 2010? Look no farther than the Rust Belt.

This group of states -- Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, among others -- are among the country's most economically depressed as the collapse of the manufacturing sector has led to skyrocketing unemployment and financial malaise. In each, Democrats currently control the governorship but Republicans are heavily targeting the races under the belief that the deep economic unhappiness will turn voters to the GOP for solutions.

Republicans' best chance is in Michigan, where a deep bench of talented candidates, coupled with unhappiness over outgoing Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm (D), makes the Wolverine State a ripe pickup.

New polling out of Ohio puts Gov. Ted Strickland (D) in the danger zone, as he led former congressman John R. Kasich 44 percent to 39 percent. Republicans are excited about the candidacy of state Attorney General Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania's open seat and think Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D) is vulnerable as he seeks a third term.

If Republicans can sweep the quartet or even win three out of four, it will give the party a foothold in several large and influential states heading into redistricting in 2011 and President Obama's reelection race in 2012.

Here's a look at the five gubernatorial races most likely to switch sides in 2009 and 2010.

5. Tennessee (Democrat-held): The Democratic field in the race to replace term-limited Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) continues to grow with state Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle forming an exploratory committee. The quality of that field, however, remains to be seen. The Republican front-runner continues to be Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, who is trying to re-create the team assembled by Sen. Bob Corker in 2006. Haslam, who is an heir to the Pilot Oil fortune, would be a favorite against any of the Democrats.

4. Nevada (Republican-held): National Republicans insist that embattled Gov. Jim Gibbons will not be their party's nominee in 2010 -- whether he retires or is defeated in the GOP primary. If Republicans can get rid of Gibbons, their hopes of keeping the Nevada governorship improve considerably. Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid is looking more and more like the Democratic nominee, so expect Republicans to try to make hay out of the fact that he and his dad -- Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D) -- are on the ballot.

3. Hawaii (R): A recent poll conducted by Research 2000 for the liberal blog Daily Kos showed Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D) and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann (D) leading Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona (R) by 9 and 10 points, respectively. Republicans insist that Aiona will surprise, but after eight years of a Republican governor, it seems likely that this strongly blue state will return to its Democratic roots.

2. Rhode Island (R): The narrowing of the Democratic field -- Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts announced last month that she would run for reelection -- helps the party as it seeks to win a three-way race against former senator Lincoln D. Chafee (I) and state Rep. Joseph A. Trillo (R). Given the state's strong Democratic leanings, the race is likely to come down to Chafee and either state Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch (D) or state Treasurer Frank Caprio (D).

1. Kansas (D): Is Sen. Sam Brownback (R) governor of the Sunflower State yet? Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh's decision to drop from the race clears the GOP primary for Brownback, and Democrats -- or, more specifically Gov. Mark Parkinson -- have fumbled the handoff of power in the wake of Kathleen Sebelius's ascension to President Obama's Cabinet. Democrats have no heir apparent to the post, and the Republican nature of Kansas will work in Brownback's favor.

13 DAYS: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) formally resigns her office.

14 DAYS: Speculation about when Palin will make her first visit to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina begins.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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