Bevin II, another close encounter of the worst kind

By BERRY CRAIG

AFT Local 1360

Think it can't get worse for unions in a second Bevin term?

Think again. Think hard

Think unemployment insurance. Workers comp. The state OSH program. They're still in his cross-hairs.

Not content with picking anti-labor secretaries of labor, Kentucky's GOP governor is all in for merging the Labor Cabinet with the Public Protection cabinet. "He'll bury the Labor Cabinet so deep that it'll never see the light of day,” said state AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Wiggins.

“If Bevin wins again, he’ll think he has a mandate to continue his radical agenda,” said Liles Taylor, state AFL-CIO political coordinator.

For unions, Bevin II, the sequel, would be another close encounter of the worst kind.

On the campaign trail four years ago, Bevin promised to make Kentucky a "right to work" state. A Democratic House thwarted him until the Trump tsunami flipped the chamber Republican in 2016.

In 2017, with Bevin cheering them on, GOP House and Senate super-majorities passed RTW and repealed the prevailing wage, both at warp speed. The governor giddily signed the bills. 

Republican infighting since has helped slowed the GOP's anti-union juggernaut.

But it will likely rev up again if Bevin gets another term. You can bet the farm most anti-Bevinites will undergo a Road to Damascus conversion, if for no other reason than fear that if they don't, he'll make sure they get primaried. 

Anyway, when I was a kid, candidates passed out little cards that said, “Your vote and your support are appreciated." Not just your vote, your support.

The Kentucky State AFL-CIO supports the whole Democratic ticket from Andy Beshear down. The labor federation isn't behind the candidates just because they're Democrats. Its member unions are backing the Democrats because they back unions. Precious few Republicans do; none of them are on the GOP ticket.

Okay, I was gobsmacked at a union guy's confession at a Paducah rally for one of the losing Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls in last month's primary.

“I helped elect Matt Bevin,” he told the crowd. Not surprisingly, stunned silence followed.

“Oh, I didn’t vote for Bevin,” he added. “I just didn’t do enough to help beat him. And that won’t happen again.”

Everybody laughed, cheered and clapped.

Maybe he didn't do enough--or thought he didn't--because he figured labor-endorsed Democrat Jack Conway had the election in the bag. A late October poll had him up by five over Bevin, who barely won the GOP primary. Conway lost by nearly 9 percent. 

So far, Beshear, the outgoing attorney general, seems to be in a good spot. But I suspect Team Beshear isn't counting any chickens, especially when the candidate and campaign veterans recall Conway v. Bevin. Conway was also attorney general when he ran.

Bevin had a tougher than expected time in his party's primary. A recent poll showed he's the most unpopular governor in the country.

Meanwhile, a December poll had Bevin trailing Beshear by eight. "I don't care if you're 20 points up in the polls, you run like your 20 points down," Wiggins warned. (No doubt, Team Beshear would echo his admonition.) 

Wiggins and Beshear are painfully aware that Kentucky is still Trump territory. They know It won't be long until the president shows up and says a vote for Bevin is a vote for him. Trump tweeted his support for Bevin on primary election day.   

"We have a good relationship," Bevin said of Trump on election night. "He will be here, he has made that clear. I look forward to it, the people of Kentucky look forward to it. How many times, we’ll see. I couldn’t even begin to imagine.”

No matter how often Trump stumps for Bevin, "this election is about Matt Bevin, not Donald Trump," Wiggins said.

“It is not about what’s going on in Washington, D.C,” Beshear said in his primary victory speech. “It’s not about the nasty attacks that Matt Bevin has already launched, starting tonight. And it’s not about right vs. left. Folks, it’s about right vs. wrong.”

Beshear's proud papa, former Gov. Steve Beshear, said unions played a key role in his election in 2007 and reelection in 2011.   

Union volunteers knocked on thousands of doors for the elder Beshear. They talked him up to their friends and families. They passed out leaflets at plant gates. They staffed phone banks. They planted signs in their yards and stuck stickers on their bumpers. They helped swell Beshear-for-governor rally crowds.

Unions and individual union members also gave him money. (Anti-union politicians and groups claim "union bosses" make rank-and-filers give part of their dues to candidates they don't like. That's a lie. Union members cannot be compelled to chip in to candidates or to other union political activities. Political contributions are strictly voluntary and go into special funds that are kept separate from dues.)  

Beshear the younger is counting on unions to work hard for him, too.

"Matt Bevin is an existential threat to the labor movement, and there can be no greater political imperative for the state of Kentucky than ensuring that he is as far away from the governor’s office as possible,” said Richard Becker, a staff organizer with 32BJ Service Employees International Union.

“Matt Bevin is the most anti-union, anti-worker governor in Kentucky's history—he’s to the right of Scott Walker,” said Bill Finn, state director of the Kentucky State Building and Construction Trades Council. 

Walker, Wisconsin’s bare-knucks, union-busting governor, lost last November. The Paducah union guy and a slew of union brothers and sisters from Jordan to Jenkins vow they're ready to help ensure a similar fate awaits Bevin this November.