Las Vegas Sun

April 21, 2014

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POLITICAL MEMO:

Expect plenty of seasonal activism

Interest groups readying their people, their messages as fall elections draw closer

When two Sun reporters scraped the data on public employee pay in 2007 and revealed that more than half of the valley’s firefighters made six figures, I assumed it would badly damage them after years of being politically invincible.

But it never seemed to happen. Their endorsement was still highly sought after and Professional Fire Fighters of Nevada President Rusty McAllister usually had his way in Carson City.

But as the Sun reported last week, firefighters are enduring a swift reversal, as years of bad press, public relations blunders, complacency and the bad economy have finally caught up to them. One political operative told me of candidates actively avoiding their endorsement, and of voters using firefighter pay as shorthand for their frustrations about the state’s ailing economy.

McAllister acknowledged being baffled and pledged to refocus and reset.

For now, the firefighters will be hampered in their efforts in the fall election; they have traditionally been an important part of the Democratic coalition.

What does the rest of the interest group scene look like heading into the fall?

Tea Partyers

Tea Party activists are disparate and diffuse, and it remains to be seen what kind of organizational muscle they can bring to bear on the fall elections.

One key player will be Debbie Landis of Anger is Brewing. Her group will communicate with its 6,300 e-mail newsletter subscribers. An outside market research firm is doing some consumer micro-targeting to help find potential activists and voters who need to register. And, they’re holding events where candidates are appearing, including a debate for Republican U.S. Senate and gubernatorial candidates Friday.

Landis has been a conservative activist for years, but she broke away from the Republican Party in frustration. “The lack of Republican organization was disgusting. Grass roots is the way to unify fiscal conservatives,” she said.

Chamber of Commerce

The chamber is nonpartisan but tends to lean Republican. The Las Vegas chamber won’t play in the federal races but will give to and endorse in legislative races. It directs resources through its political action committee to its endorsed candidates and provides volunteers. It sometimes gives to a candidate — usually incumbents — without endorsing him or her, presumably to hedge their bets.

Overall, corporations and to a lesser extent labor unions could play an important role this election cycle after the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision, which overturned a law banning corporations from spending money on federal elections.

Culinary Local 226

The Strip workers’ union is the big player in Democratic politics, with roughly 50,000 members who work the streets harder than anyone.

The union lost Pilar Weiss, its political director, as she became deputy national political director of the parent union, though she still spends time here. Union head D. Taylor said a new operative will be in place, and workers will hit the pavement in good time. Culinary seems focused on one priority: re-electing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Teachers

Teachers tend to vote, and the union is well-funded, making them important players.

“The membership are very connected to political events and they are highly motivated,” said Dan Hart, political consultant to the roughly 30,000-member union. Given the budget cuts to education, expect teachers to volunteer and vote.

Teachers and other public employee unions will likely have more influence this election cycle because while money from developers and other business interests has dried up during the recession, teachers and other public employees have for the most part avoided layoffs, so union dues keeps rolling in.

AFL-CIO

The federation, and especially the building trades, have been battered by the economy. Many members are unemployed, which federation head Danny Thompson said has them motivated to support labor-friendly candidates in the fall.

Given their decision not to take up the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier to unionize, some Democrats feared labor would sit this election out. But the health care victory has the labor base in better spirits, and the Republican alternative doesn’t look so hot to labor.

“There’s two ways to run a campaign: unopposed and scared,” Thompson said. “So we’re not taking anything for granted, but if we do our work, we’ll get the results we need.”

Last year the federation had 225,000 members, Thompson said. Unemployed members are still members, though it’s likely some in the building trades moved away to find work, so the number could be smaller this year.

We’ll examine other important interest groups in future political memos.

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