HD-48: The "Labor Candidate" Loses Labor’s Support

By Steve Hughes of Portland, Oregon. Steve is the state director of the Oregon Working Families Party. Previously, he contributed "Is Mike Schaufler Losing Labor’s Support?"

Recently, in describing his bid to retain his seat in the legislature to the Oregonian, embattled incumbent State Representative Mike Schaufler (D – Happy Valley) described himself as, “the labor candidate in this race.”

But over the past several weeks Schaufler’s progressive challenger, Jeff Reardon, has continued to pick up more and more labor support. It started when the leadership of the Working Families Party voted to endorse Jeff Reardon. The next day, two unions that are part of the leadership of the WFP, the United Food and Commercial Workers and the Operating Engineers—announced they were backing Jeff Reardon. Not long ago the District Council of Carpenters and the Oregon School Employees Association threw in for Jeff too. And just this week, AFSCME joined the fight for a change in House District 48.

Even Schaufler’s old union, the District Council of Laborers, is now backing Jeff Reardon.

What’s going on here?

Mike Schaufler’s willingness to take money from the notoriously anti-union, anti-environment Koch brothers is only the most visible sign of something bigger happening. Schaufler surely isn't the first elected leader to take support from organized labor for granted, but he does have a knack for doing it in very public ways. In the end, he predicted broad support from organized labor to the Oregonian before the facts were in.

Unions, and the working families they represent, fight day in and day out to make the lives of their members—and all working people—better. The work happens on the shop floor, at the bargaining table, and in the legislature.

Without the labor movement we wouldn't have the New Deal, Social Security, or workplace health and safety standards. What would Rush Limbaugh, Scott Walker, or ALEC do with all their free time, without those foundational labor movement victories to attack? Make no mistake, there is a multi-billion dollar industry built around destroying unions along with all the gains they have made for working people. It is something to think about the next time you find yourself or a relative at Thanksgiving dinner saying, “unions had their place in the 1930’s, but I just don’t see how they are relevant now.”

Schaufler’s willingness to take the Koch money was at best a rather blunderous campaign decision. However, the fact that under duress he decided to give it back does little to paper over the fundamental pattern that defines his campaign finance activity. When you look at the numbers you will find that of the 711 campaign contributions he has accepted since 2007 an astounding 90% have come from corporations, PACs or a dozen or so folks who list their occupation as “lobbyist.” If you remove from that total the contributions he has received from unions during that time, the percentage only goes down to 79%.

This means that still over three-quarters of Schaufler’s campaign cash comes from corporations and PACs not affiliated with unions. When you scan the name of those PACs and corporations you find the names of big banks, insurance companies, the tobacco and soft drink lobby, the restaurant lobby famous for their efforts to undermine the minimum wage, and many more.

This is hardly the stuff of a “labor candidate.”

Meanwhile, over his ten years in the legislature, Mike Schaufler has voted to shield the banks from regulation, he has voted against taxing corporations and the wealthy to pay for vital public services, and he was the only Democrat to side with the entire Republican caucus in a nearly-successful attempt to kill health care reform in the last legislative session.

For someone who fancies himself a champion for the working class, the facts don’t quite pencil out for Mike. In the end, as more and more unions side with Jeff Reardon, it is fair to say that Mike Schaufler’s claims to speak for working people are starting to ring hollow with, well, working people.

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    Great post. One of the exciting things about this campaign has been getting to see the WFP in action. You guys have done solid work for Reardon, especially on the doorstep. As someone who managed a campaign for a WFP-endorsed candidate in Long Island years ago, I appreciate the WFP's ability to organize and make a huge difference. It's been tremendously helpful.

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