Minnesota euphoria over Obama win tempered by Senate recount

Editor, WorkdayMinnesota.org and Press Associates

MINNEAPOLIS (PAI)--Whether Minnesota labor's massive effort to mobilize members in the 2008 elections was a success will ultimately turn on the results of a recount in the U.S. Senate race, Labor 2008 coordinators say.

And that recount has implications for workers around the whole country.

More than 2,000 Minnesota union members knocked on 250,000 doors, handed out more than 3 million worksite flyers and placed over 100,000 phone calls, the state AFL-CIO’s website reports. Their work played a role in Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's historic win and victories in many legislative and local contests.

'We had unprecedented numbers of volunteers for our get-out-the-vote efforts,' said Russell Hess, co-director of Minnesota Labor 2008, echoing statements that statewide union coordinators could make from coast to coast.

But while Hess feels good about the work the Minnesotans did, he can't help feeling 'if each local union could have convinced one more person to support” Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Al Franken, we wouldn't be having this recount.'

While most AFL-CIO and Change to Win unions backed Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) challenger Franken, a few labor organizations–notably the Carpenters and Pipe Trades--endorsed Coleman. After all the results were turned in, Coleman led Franken by only 215 votes out of just under 3 million cast. An official recount began Nov. 18 and could take a month, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said.

Franken’s race against GOP incumbent Norman Coleman is important nationally. To get pro-worker bills through the Senate, workers and their allies need 60 votes, out of 100 senators, to cut off GOP filibusters. That includes a presumed GOP talkathon against the Employee Free Choice Act, which is designed to help level the playing field between workers and bosses in union organizing and bargaining first contracts.

As of mid-November, the Democrats had 58 seats, when Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) was declared the winner over veteran Sen. Ted Stevens (R), two weeks after Stevens was convicted on seven felony charges. Whether the Democrats get to 60 depends on a Dec. 2 runoff in Georgia--and the recount in Minnesota.

St. Paul Regional Labor Federation President Shar Knutson acknowledged that many Minnesotans will not be eager to see this election season prolonged, but what's most important, she added, is that the state gets the tally right.

'The Senate race is too close to call,' Knutson said. 'Minnesota law requires an automatic recount for these situations, and it is our duty to count all the votes. It's the American way and a Minnesota tradition.'

Scores of union volunteers, recruited by the Franken campaign, are watching the recount, said Liz McLoone, field representative for the Southeast Area Labor Council, based in Rochester. 'We need Al Franken to be in the Senate to work in partnership with representatives like Tim Walz to support working families,' McLoone said. 'Coleman has disappointed us time and time again.'

Besides Obama’s win, unions helped the DFL gain two more seats in the Minnesota House, but the party fell short of getting a 'veto-proof' majority that would enable lawmakers to override any veto by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. 'Our goal was to have a veto-proof majority in the House, but everyone was realistic that that was going to be tough to achieve,' Hess said. There is already a veto-proof DFL majority in the Minnesota Senate.

Labor was also disappointed by re-election of two GOP U.S. representatives, Michele Bachmann and John Kline, and the election of Republican Erik Paulsen to the 3rd District seat vacated by GOPer Jim Ramstad. The state’s five Democrats, including the freshman Walz in the pro-GOP 1st District, all won easily. Walz is a member of Education Minnesota, the state’s joint AFT-NEA affiliate, a high school teacher, and an Iraq War veteran. Walz is one of several active union members in the U.S. House.

Independence Party candidates made the difference in the Bachmann and Paulsen races and definitely affected the Senate race, said Mark Froemke, president of the West Area Labor Council that spans the western half of the state. 'The Independence Party got a better number than I would have expected in this area,' he said. Negativity of campaign commercials in the final days of the Senate race also had an effect.