Labor 2012: Minnesota unions celebrate clean sweep of top priorities

Volunteers take turf assignments during Midnight Madness, a get-out-the-vote event on the eve of Election Day.

Minnesota unions achieved a clean sweep of their top priorities for the Nov. 6 election, as voters elected pro-labor majorities to the Legislature, tossed a Tea Party incumbent out of office in the 8th Congressional District and rejected a pair of constitutional amendments opposed by labor.

It was a resounding victory for the Labor 2012 political campaign, coordinated by the state’s unions and labor federations.

Shar Knutson, president of the 300,000-member Minnesota AFL-CIO, said the state’s voters “firmly rejected the politics of division, restriction and corporate greed,” and she applauded the work thousands of union volunteers did to educate voters on the issues – and get them to the polls.

The Labor 2012 campaign set five priorities heading into the election cycle. Here’s a breakdown of how the campaign fared on each of them, with a focus on the East Metro:

• Priority No. 1: Winning legislative majorities

After Republicans took control of the House in Senate two years ago, they pushed several attacks on workers, including Right to Work. Unions sought to rebuild pro-labor majorities in the Legislature, targeting endorsed candidates in competitive districts across the state, particularly in suburban areas.

The strategy worked. DFL Party candidates won a 39-28 majority in the Senate and a 73-61 majority in the House. Knutson called it a “pro-middle class majority,” adding that voters “rejected the extremism and gridlock that plagued the 2011-12 session.”

Several labor-endorsed candidates in East Metro suburbs were among the wave of DFLers elected Nov. 6, including seven of eight candidates in districts where the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation targeted its efforts.

The campaign was particularly successful in Eagan, where Jim Carlson, Sandra Masin and Laurie Halverson swept all three legislative seats in Senate District 51. Halverson’s victory was particularly sweet for union members, as her incumbent opponent, Doug Wardlow, had been a leading proponent of Right to Work in the House.

Greg Clausen (right), the labor-endorsed winner in Senate District 57, talks with Rep. John Lesch at Midnight Madness.

Other winners in the East Metro included Greg Clausen in Senate District 57, Susan Kent in Senate District 53, Barb Yarusso in House District 42A and Will Morgan, who won by 170 votes in House District 56B.

• Priority No. 2: Defeating Chip Cravaack

Rick Nolan, the labor-endorsed candidate, won a decisive victory in the 8th District, which stretches from the Iron Range south into Chisago County. Cravaack shocked longtime Rep. Jim Oberstar two years ago, but he fell out of favor with his DFL-leaning district after aligning himself with the Tea Party in Congress.

• Priority No. 3: Defeating the constitutional amendments

With money and manpower, Minnesota unions supported successful efforts to defeat two amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot: one that would have limited the definition of marriage to one man and one woman, and another that would have required voters to show photo identification at the polls.

Jamie Gulley, an officer of the 30,000-member SEIU Minnesota State Council, said unions opposed the amendments out of “the basic principles of fairness.”

“We believe that both of these amendments would strike a blow to justice and humanity for a significant number of Minnesotans,” Gulley said. “Because of this, we made a decision stand with a broad coalition of organizations insisting that Minnesotans ‘Vote No.’”

Voters rejected two constitutional amendments opposed by the state’s unions.

• Priority No. 4: Win local elections

In St. Paul, voters overwhelmingly passed a labor-backed school levy referendum. And candidates for county commissioner endorsed by the St. Paul RLF swept races in Chisago and Ramsey counties.

• Priority No. 5: Re-elect Barack Obama, Amy Klobuchar and DFL members of Congress

Obama and Klobuchar won by large margins, as did U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum in a redrawn 4th Congressional District. Voters also returned Rep. Tim Walz in the 1st District and Rep. Keith Ellison in the 5th District.

Unions’ political work isn’t over, however.

“It is now time to begin the work of completing Minnesota’s economic recovery and help build a state that can be a national leader for decades to come,” Knutson said.

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