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Exclusive Interview with WSLC President Jeff Johnson Election 2014: “We can make a good start.”

By Mike Andrew

While “there’s no easy path to take back the State Senate,” Washington State Labor Council (WSLC) President and PSARA member Jeff Johnson told me in a recent interview, “at least we can make a good start in turning the state around.”

PSARA has an important role to play in making that happen, he continued, because our members’ “life experiences and their membership in an organization like PSARA make them valuable voices out in their communities.”

“Can Democrats take back control of the State Senate?” I asked.

“If I answered on the basis of the primary,” Johnson replied, “the chances look horrible. The primary turnout was so low, and among union members even lower than the average.

“But we can see things starting to turn around. I’d give us a 50/50 chance. We have a good shot at two, possibly three seats.

“It all depends on turnout,” Johnson added. “People are turned off by the gridlock in Congress and they couldn’t care less whether Democrats or Republicans are at fault.

“They see parallels between the State Senate and the US Senate – they don’t distinguish between federal, state, or local governments. There’s not enough revenue and so no one is providing social services, public transportation, or public education.

“It turns people off. And that’s exactly the goal of the Republicans and the Koch brothers! There’s a plan to quash the voice of the people, to reduce the Democratic vote by 10%. That’s what we’re up against!”

“So what do we do about it?”

WSLC has targeted a number of Legislative Districts where a big push by labor could net Senate seats for Democrats, Johnson explained, “and we don’t look at these as just District races. These are statewide races! The outcome will have a huge impact on our [statewide] economy and future polices.”

Johnson urged PSARA members to sign up for phonebanks and doorknocking walks in these targeted districts where we can make the biggest impact.

“We have to play where the game is,” he said.

“We’re good at raising money,” Johnson explained, “but we can’t raise enough to compete with the Republicans. We need to have our people out in the neighborhoods knocking on doors and talking to voters face to face.”

“What are the key districts?”

Rodney Tom, who turned over control of the State Senate to Republicans in a deal that made him Majority Leader, is already out of the picture. When Democrat Joan McBride filed to challenge him in the 48th Legislative District, he dropped out of the race.

Now McBride is running for the State House seat formerly held by Cyrus Habib, and Habib is a good bet to win Tom’s Senate seat.

WSLC also considers the 28th District a “must win” race. Democratic Senate candidate Tammy Green “is so buoyant,” Johnson told me, “she brings real passion to the race. She’s already knocked on 22,000 doors.”

In contrast, her Republican opponent Steve O’Ban is linked to the right-wing Freedom Foundation. (For more on the Freedom Foundation’s anti-union antics, see Tim Wheeler’s article on Page 4.)

In the 42nd District, WSLC is backing Seth Fleetwood against Republican incumbent Doug Erickson.

“This one is a little more difficult because of redistricting” that put more conservative voters into the district, Johnson said, but WSLC is relying on help from allies in the environmental community.

“Erickson is just a patsy for big oil,” Johnson explained. “He’s a climate change denier. He scoffs at the idea that Boeing should give something back to this state.”

In the 45th District “Matt Isenhower is a real fighter. He’s hit more doors than any other politician in the state,” Johnson said admiringly. “He even took a leave of absence from his job to campaign full time.”

Isenhower’s opponent, Republican incumbent Andy Hill, is Senate Budget Chair, “so he has to take the blame for the state’s budget impasse,” Johnson said. “He claims he’s a great education advocate, but he won’t raise revenue for education, he just wants to take money from other social services.”

The race in the 30th District pits Mark Miloscia – now politically reincarnated as a Republican – against progressive Democrat Shari Song.

“This is a very frustrating one,” Johnson said, shaking his head.

“When Mark was in the House he cast some good votes for labor. He went off track on social issues that were very important to us [for example opposing reproductive choice and marriage equality], and he went off track on budget issues too.

“But for Shari to win, communities of color have to come out in much greater numbers than they did in the primary. So there’s a lot more work to be done creating those community connections.”

“What can PSARA do to help?”

“We’ve scheduled five major walks in multiple cities, plus phonebanks twice a week,” Johnson replied. “We’re working with union leaders and with organizations like PSARA to get their members fired up.

“We need 3,500 volunteers. If we meet that number we can hit every targeted door in the state. I know we may be asking people to drive some distance, or go outside their neighborhoods – their comfort zone – but that’s what it will take.”

PSARA members who want to help should visit WSLC’s website – wslc.org/ cope/lv-sched.htm, or phone WSLC Field Mobilization Director Lori Province at 206-351-2956.

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