Rust Belt Republicans aren't the only governors facing labor heat, and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's no good, very bad week could be an indicator of long-term problems if the unions who helped elect him continue to feel antagonized by his pension proposals.
Quinn has made pension reform his signature issue, and he spent significant political capital this week in hopes of meeting a self-imposed deadline on finding a solution. Instead, his plan wasn't even called to a vote in the state legislature, and union leaders lashed out at his proposal to create an eight-member pension commission. Among labor's descriptions of his plan: a "desperate Hail Mary," a "clearly unconstitutional delegation of power" and a "sad attempt to get something done."
Quinn will, of course, try again with the newly sworn in Legislature, but it may take some time to regather traction on the issue. While the governor licked his wounds this week, former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley was hiring a polling firm to test the waters on a possible primary challenge. While Daley has his own rocky relationship with organized labor, even a drop-off in support -- if not a switch to an opponent -- could be a serious blow to Quinn.
In the 2010 cycle, the governor raised $24 million, $11.4 million of which came from labor groups. Seven of his top 10 donors were labor organizations. That funding is something Quinn can't afford to lose, and labor leaders said they'll be watching his next two years in office closely.
"Our teachers, they want to know that the governor is working in our best interest," said Jim Reed, government relations director for the Illinois Education Association, which pumped nearly $1 million into Quinn's 2010 campaign. "If other candidates arise that are able to provide that leadership, the membership may move in that direction. This is a test period for the governor."
AFSCME, another heavy Quinn donor in 2010, issued its own threat Friday: "Taking away collective bargaining rights from public service workers is right out of the playbook of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker ... and Ohio Gov. John Kasich," the organization said in a statement. "AFSCME will continue fighting for workers’ rights, and push for a repeal of this law. The voters will certainly have something to say about this as well."
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