Labor Changes States From Red to Blue


11-07-07, 1:22 pm

Key Democratic electoral victories in Kentucky and Virginia this week – fueled mainly by labor movement volunteers – signal good things to come for working families in those states.

In a landslide victory, Democrat Steve Beshear unseated ultra-right, anti-labor Governor Ernie Fletcher Jr. Beshear worked with United Auto Workers members in several cities in get out the vote activities. He promised to work to expand health care for children and to protect the health and income benefits of low-income seniors.

In addition to a major corruption scandal, Fletcher's campaign was marred by his plan to make deep cuts in the state's Medicaid program and to severely weaken the rights of workers to join and organize unions.

In Virginia, Democrats gained control of the State Senate for the first time in a decade, picking up four seats in this week's election. Democrats also narrowed the gap in the State House.

In both states, labor's role in the victory was indispensable. According to estimates by the AFL-CIO, 350,000 union members and family members live in Kentucky and comprised about 1 in 4 Kentucky voters on Nov. 6th.

Hundreds of union volunteers staffed phone banks in Lousiville, Bowling Green, Pikeville, Lexington, Ashland and other places. UAW members conducted door-to-door meetings with other union members to educate them and mobilize them for the election. Carpenters, autoworkers, health care workers, steelworkers, office workers, and many more from more than two dozens international unions joined in the effort.

Similar activities took place in Virginia. When Virginia Republicans blocked the nomination of Daniel LeBlanc as Secretary of the Commonwealth, solely because he is a union member, many working people took it personally. Hundreds volunteered to help bring thousands of union members to the polls on November 6th.

More than anything, this elections shows the power of working families to change our state legislatures, governor's mansions as well as Congress and the White House. In both states, the tide is turning in once solidly Republican strongholds into key battleground states for the 2008 elections.

The Democratic victory in Kentucky is a sort of warning shot across Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) bow that his time may be up. With approval ratings sinking below 50%, a sign of deep trouble for an incumbent, McConnell could be heading for serious contention for his job in 2008.

The fact that McConnell has refused to break with the Bush administration on key polices like bringing the troops home from Iraq and helping to block reauthorization of the children's health insurance program hasn't helped his cause.

Likewise, Virginia will be a key battleground in 2008 as well. Senator Jim Webb's unseating of George Allen in 2006, Sen. John Warner's early retirement, and the shift in the balance of power in the state legislature signal that the state may be ready to both send two Democrats to the US Senate and vote for Democratic presidential candidate in 2008.

--Reach Joel Wendland at