Two Republican legislators targeted by Utah’s Democrats in 2014 have picked up crucial endorsements from an unlikely source – Utah’s labor unions.
Republicans Craig Hall and Johnny Anderson have been endorsed by the Utah chapters of the AFL-CIO and AFSCME. The recommendations could tip the scales in those two hotly-contested races come November, especially since those districts are home for a large number of blue-collar voters.
Hall, who also won labor union endorsements in 2012, says the union stamp of approval is a huge boost.
“They don’t give these endorsements away easily,” says Hall. “In 2012, these endorsements were extremely helpful because there are a lot of people in my district who would normally vote for a Democrat, but they see the labor unions endorsing me and they give that a lot of consideration.”
In the past, labor union endorsements have been nearly exclusive territory for Democrats. Not anymore.
Dale Cox, President of Utah’s AFL-CIO, says taking a closer look at Republican candidates is a sign that things are shifting in Utah’s political arena.
“We look at the candidate, not the party,” says Cox. “It’s more of what the candidate’s policies are. We don’t just endorse, we interview both sides and make a decision.”
Cox says making an endorsement in the race between Republican Hall and his Democratic challenger Liz Muniz was extremely difficult.
“Liz is a great candidate. I wish there was something we could do for her. But, Hall has voted 100% on our issues. It’s hard to turn your back on someone who supports your values.”
Democrats are hoping Muniz can pick off Hall this time around after losing by just 452 votes in 2012. That task got a little bit harder with all of the labor union endorsements rolling Hall’s way this year.
An endorsement from a labor union carries other benefits, including material support for a candidate. Cox says they’ll canvass for a candidate, knocking on doors and distributing materials across the district.
“We will do whatever we can to help a candidate that earns our endorsement win,” says Cox.
This new attitude by labor unions, considering candidates more than the party label, reflects a newfound pragmatism in Utah’s political arena. The overwhelming Republican majority on the Hill means you have to get GOP legislators in your corner if you hope to get something done.
“In the past, I don’t think a lot of labor unions even looked at Republicans,” says Cox. “It was a rubber stamp, meaning Democrats automatically got the endorsement. Now candidates have to earn that endorsement, and we keep records of how they vote so we can hold them accountable.”
Hall agrees that new pragmatic approach will serve labor unions well.
“Every organization that wants to effect some change at the Legislature needs to get a majority of votes, which means they have to work with Republicans to get things done.”
So far Hall and Anderson are the only Republicans AFSCME have endorsed, but they are still in the process of evaluating candidates. In addition to Hall and Anderson, the Utah AFL-CIO have given their stamp of approval to Legislative Republicans Dixon Pitcher, Lee Perry, Eric Hutchings and Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Newton.