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Labor pushes back hard in West Virginia

Politics has its own version of Newton’s Third Law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In politics, the reaction may not be as predictable or as commensurate as in physics, but it is real.

Earlier this year, the Republican-led West Virginia Legislature repealed the state’s prevailing wage law that set the hourly pay on state-funded projects and passed a right-to-work law, giving workers more discretion over their decision whether to join a union.

Those two pieces of legislation triggered a firestorm in the labor movement. Long-time AFL-CIO President Kenny Perdue said those actions elevated the tension between labor and business, Republicans and Democrats. “They made it a personal attack on me,” Perdue told MetroNews.

Labor, with the support of trial lawyers, responded with a well-financed campaign this election cycle to take out Republicans who backed right-to-work and the repeal of prevailing wage to try to swing the Legislature back to Democratic control and elect a Democratic Governor.

According to the latest campaign spending report filed just last week, the West Virginia Family Values PAC has raised $2.7 million and spent $2.3 million this election cycle to try to defeat Republicans. That’s a huge sum of money by West Virginia standards.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson) is one of the targets. The West Virginia Family Values PAC has excoriated Carmichael for his brief testimony on behalf of a convicted child sex offender. The PAC has included that fact in ads against other Republican Senators to try to suggest they are soft on sex crimes.

Senator Chris Walters (R-Kanawha) is so furious about the ads that he’s filed a lawsuit to try to stop broadcasters from running them. That is an uphill climb.  West Virginia Broadcasters Association attorney Dave Barnette says if the ad is factually correct then broadcasters are under no obligation to stop running them.

West Virginia AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Josh Sword told our Brad McElhinny that labor is simply pushing back hard because of the right-to-work and prevailing wage issues. “We’re forced to do what we have to do. We have to fight back.  I would call it unprecedented here in West Virginia.”

Actually, there have been other well-financed third-party attempts to impact the election, with varying degrees of success.   As McElhinny reported, “In 1996, unions targeted 62 legislators who had voted to reform the workers comp system. Only three of the lawmakers targeted by labor that year were defeated.”  Lawmakers who survived still talk about the campaign signs against them that bore pictures of a bloody ax.

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship created the And For the Sake of the Kids PAC in the 2000’s to try to influence elections. He was successful in 2004 in helping knock liberal Justice Warren McGraw off the Supreme Court, but failed spectacularly in the 2006 election when he spent over $2 million of his own money to try to flip the House of Delegates from Democrat to Republican.

Unlike the physics version of Newton’s Third Law, politics is a less exact science. Blankenship’s 2006 third party spending was up against national headwinds. The midterm election was a sweep for Democrats as they retook the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate and gained a majority of Governorships.

This cycle, the West Virginia Family Values PAC has gone all-in because of right-to-work and prevailing wage. We’ll know election night whether their hard-driving strategy pays off or whether West Virginia’s trend toward a becoming red state has just too much momentum.

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