SEIU drafts independent candidate against Kissell

The Service Employees International Union said Thursday that it has turned in the thousands of signatures necessary to qualify an independent candidate to run against Rep. Larry Kissell (D-N.C.).

SEIU submitted more than 34,000 signatures in North Carolina to qualify Wendell Fant as a candidate against Kissell. Only 17,000 were needed to qualify Fant to run this coming November.

The House Democrat earned the ire of the union after he voted against the healthcare reform bill in March this year. Kissell is a freshman lawmaker who was elected with labor support. Fant is a former aide to Kissell. The lawmaker has filed an ethics complaints against Fant for using a government computer for personal use.

"These families are looking for leaders who are going to stand side-by-side with them and fight for their interests," Lori Lodes, a SEIU spokeswoman, said in a statement. "And that's what this effort is about — giving North Carolinians a choice to vote for someone who understands where they are coming from and can take their voice to Congress."

SEIU's 55,000 member-strong local union, the State Employees Association of North Carolina, has been leading the effort to create a third party in the state, called North Carolina First, to challenge the three North Carolina House Democrats who voted against the healthcare reform bill — Kissell, Rep. Mike McIntyre and Rep. Health Shuler. But that effort failed last month after the union could not submit enough signatures to qualify by deadline.

The support of an independent candidate against Kissell shows the labor movement is not backing down from challenging Democrats this year, despite seeing Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) fend off a union-backed challenger this week. That loss led to some friction between the White House and unions who have been supporting challenges to centrist Democrats that have moved against labor's agenda.