Public sector union head says Dems could do more for Wisconsin recall

The leader of one of the country’s most politically powerful unions said Thursday that national Democrats could have done more in the Wisconsin recall race.

Gerry McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), said more could and should have been done in the effort to remove Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) from office by the national party. Recalling Walker is of huge importance to labor, who became a conservative hero last year after facing off with unions over public workers’ collective bargaining rights.

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“We think that there could have been more responsibility, more work on behalf of the national Democratic Party. I think the Democratic Party in Wisconsin did basically everything that they could and can,” McEntee said. “We think they could and should have done more.”

McEntee said there was still an opportunity to help with the recall effort against Walker.

“I think it's only logical to say that if you think they could have done more then that it has hurt a bit. If they did more, it would have helped some more. I think that did hurt a little bit,” McEntee said.

McEntee was speaking at a book signing event for “The Main Street Moment,” which he co-authored with Lee Saunders, AFSCME’s secretary-treasurer.

AFSCME, along with many in labor, has put serious resources into the race in which Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) is challenging Walker. McEntee said the public sector union made a bigger financial commitment just last week to boost its political program in the state.

“Matter of fact, we put a million dollars more in there last week in Wisconsin to try to fill up our budgetary hole that was necessary to complete our program in Wisconsin. And we did, and we did it well,” McEntee said.

There has been friction between unions and Democrats over how much support the party has put into the recall effort against Walker.

Melanie Roussell, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), said the DNC and Obama for America’s (OFA) support for Barrett is “substantial,” saying the party’s investment in political infrastructure for Wisconsin this election cycle is nearly $1.5 million. 

Roussell also noted that Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the DNC Chairwoman, hosted a fundraiser for Barrett and has campaigned in Wisconsin. Former President Bill Clinton will also be campaigning with Barrett.

“From recruiting volunteers and registering voters to organizing on campuses across the state, the DNC and OFA are working alongside the Barrett campaign and the state party to build the ground game that is crucial for success on Election Day. And we will continue to utilize both our substantial network of activists, volunteers and supporters and extensive online resources to lay the groundwork for victory,” Roussell said.

The Democratic Governors Association also has put $3 million into the recall effort.

President Obama has endorsed Barrett in the race but McEntee said a visit by him to Wisconsin could be helpful to Barrett’s chances.

“I think it would be helpful if Obama could find his way into Wisconsin but I would say this is really a Wisconsin problem,” McEntee said. “It would be helpful if he could get there but as I say, it's a Wisconsin problem, he’s got his hands full with the country. If he could a find a way to get there, I think it would be great. If he can’t, he can’t.”

Polls have been tight in Wisconsin, with Walker often talking a slight lead against Barrett. Walker’s opponents say voter turnout will be key if they are to remove the governor from office.

“It's an election all about who gets their people out, and we think that we have the machinery, we think that we have the passion of our people for them to come out and we think that the day after the election that he will be packing his goddamn bag and heading back to Milwaukee,” McEntee said.

McEntee has been AFSCME president for more than 30 years but is leaving the post this year. His second-in-command, Saunders, is running to replace him.

Speaking at the same event, Saunders said he was optimistic about the recall effort in Wisconsin but labor will need to keep fighting past the June 5 election.

“We are optimistic about what happens in Wisconsin but the battle and the fight continues after June 5,” Saunders said. “The battle and the fight continues through November of 2012, and it's going continue after that because these folks are not going to give up. This is a coordinated effort across this country to silence us and to silence our voices and we got to be committed enough and dedicated enough to work our asses off 24/7 to make sure that we're fighting back.” 

AFSCME has endorsed Obama in his reelection bid. Saunders is confident the president will win against presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in November.

“We are going to be behind him a thousand percent, so will the rest of the labor movement and I believe he's going to win in November,” Saunders said.