Washington Prowler

If You AFSCME

Gerald McEntee's Partnership of one. Plus: California's Marin counting.

By 5.27.03

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A PARTNERSHIP OF ONE
"Actually I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner." That's what one AFL-CIO congressional lobbyist says about the news late last week that AFSCME, the powerful public employee union, had withdrawn its membership and sizable funding from organized labor's fledgling, grassroots get-out-the-vote group, Partnership for America's Families.

Partnership was set up by the AFL-CIO in the wake of the campaign finance law, which barred unions from participating in some political activities, including media advertising for specific candidates or parties and playing a leadership role in party and union activities simultaneously. The Partnership allows members to remain active in political campaigns, sidestepping McCain-Feingold restrictions.

The AFL-CIO set up the foundation with Steve Rosenthal as its leader. He formerly served as the union's political director, and apparently in recent months had clashed with Gerald McEntee, AFSCME's high-profile and power-hungry president. "McEntee wants to be the kingmaker in Democratic politics, and has the ear of guys like [Sen. John] Kerry and [Rep. Dick] Gephardt," says the AFL-CIO lobbyist. "Rosenthal has to be thinking bigger, and long term. It isn't his job to pick the Democratic candidate. It's his job to make sure the Democratic candidate gets elected in 2004."

Perhaps for that reason, the Partnership, which is focusing on voter registration and grass roots volunteerism projects, wasn't moving aggressively enough or in the direction that McEntee wanted. AFSCME has been far more political than many of its organized labor brethren, perhaps because so many of its members are government employees on the municipal, county and state. Mix that with McEntee, who recently hosted the big Iowa debate for Democratic presidential hopefuls, and you have an overactive concoction, more interested in short-term power-brokering than in the nuts and bolts of get-out-the-vote planning.

"That's probably why so many of the Democrats want to be associated with us, and not the Partnership," says an AFSCME board member. "Those AFL-CIO guys are still hanging with Gore. We've already got the frontrunners with us."

If so, that's only because McEntee, acting like an overly friendly high school cheerleader desperate for attention, has been wooing them.

Meanwhile, all the Democratic presidential candidates have attended AFL-CIO functions in the past six months, paying fealty to all "those AFL-CIO guys" as well who control the large block of voters each candidate knows he has to have to win, if not in the primary races, then in the general election.

"Basically McEntee wants to have more control over AFSCME membership activities. That's the bottom line. He wants to be the powerbroker for his membership's vote," says the AFL-CIO lobbyist.

And it isn't as if this is a huge split. McEntee, remains a senior AFL-CIO boardmember, controlling the umbrella group's political activities. Still, as the Democratic primary season heats up, it will be interesting to watch how AFSCME and Partnership compete in places like Iowa and New Hampshire and on Super Primary dates, when allegiances might be working at cross purposes.

MARIN COUNTING
U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin is now "former U.S. Treasurer" and heading back to California to launch a campaign against Sen. Barbara Boxer. Marin has met several times with White House political guru Karl Rove, who while not promising to clear the field for her, indicated his happiness that she was entering the race.

Marin would seem to positioned to at least give the Republicans something they haven't had in the Golden State for years: an attractive, Hispanic candidate capable of running statewide. "At the least, her candidacy is going to help President Bush in the longterm out there," says a state Republican Party operative in Sacramento. "At most, we're looking at a candidate Barbara Boxer probably prefers to not run against."

Marin is the classic Bush/Rove candidate: a moderate on social issues, such as abortion, while remaining loyal and true to the Bush economic and international agenda. That strategy worked wonders in states like Minnesota and Missouri last year in helping the GOP retake majority control of the Senate.

Marin was expected to make no immediate formal announcement about her plans, but fundraisers in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco were already being planned at this writing.

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