By Adam Pagnucco.
In politics, it’s an iron law that unions always endorse Democrats, yeah? Labor is known for supplying money and manpower to the Democratic Party in an alliance dating back decades. But the truth is more complicated owing to the complexities within the labor movement little appreciated by outsiders. And that truth just erupted in the Governor’s race in a big way.
Recently, the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), one of the largest unions in the country, endorsed Republican Governor Larry Hogan. As the Washington Post noted, LIUNA had supported Hogan’s 2014 opponent, then-Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, and gave him a last-minute $500,000 loan. Why is this such a big deal?
First, LIUNA is in part a building trades union. A big chunk of its half a million members work in the construction industry alongside unions representing carpenters, electricians, operating engineers, iron workers, bricklayers and more. Accordingly, it has an interest in landing construction projects for its members. The Post reported, “A spokesman for the union said it is backing Hogan because of his emphasis on building roads and bridges – particularly his $9 billion proposal to add toll plans to Maryland’s most congested highways.” LIUNA Mid-Atlantic Vice President Dennis Martire added, “Transportation infrastructure continues to take a back seat for many elected officials… It’s refreshing to see Governor Hogan’s proposed plans for Maryland’s roads and highways.” Local organizations affiliated with two other building trades unions – the Roofers and the Plumbers and Pipefitters – have also endorsed Hogan. Don’t be surprised if more trades climb on board.
Second, LIUNA is one of the most diverse unions in the country. It represents large numbers of African Americans and Latinos who are not as socially conservative as the other trades and public safety unions that are supporting Hogan. Many LIUNA members are government employees, and in Montgomery County, the union represents trash haulers who are employed by county contractors. The union’s legislative agenda goes beyond traditional building trades issues. In endorsing Rich Madaleno in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, the union cited his work on earned sick leave and the $15 minimum wage. LIUNA also endorsed Marc Elrich for County Executive. That’s right, folks – here is an organization that supported Madaleno, Elrich, Brown AND Hogan.
Third, LIUNA spends massive amounts on Maryland political campaigns. From 2005 through June 2018, the union contributed $2.2 million to Maryland candidates, PACs and independent expenditure committees. Its biggest expenditures were $678,065 to the Clean Slate Baltimore PAC opposing 2016 Mayor candidate (and former Mayor) Sheila Dixon; $528,500 to Anthony Brown’s 2014 campaign for Governor; $150,000 to the One State One Future Super PAC for Brown; $78,250 to the state Democratic Party; and $35,000 to the Progressive Maryland PAC that ran negative TV ads against County Executive candidate David Blair. There is no indication that the union will spend any money promoting Hogan, who – Lord knows! – doesn’t need more money. But LIUNA’s resources are now off the table for Democratic nominee Ben Jealous, who could have used them.
Speaking of Progressive Maryland, LIUNA is one of their dues-paying affiliates. That didn’t stop Progressive Maryland from criticizing LIUNA’s endorsement of Hogan on Facebook, an almost unheard-of act by an umbrella group against a member. That’s how much LIUNA’s choice stings the left.
Finally, consider this. One of the most remarkable findings in the recent Gonzales poll showing a sixteen-point lead for Hogan over Jealous was its estimates for Baltimore City and Prince George’s County. Those are two jurisdictions Jealous needs to win by big margins, but the poll shows him leading Hogan by six points in the City and thirteen points in Prince George’s. We are skeptical that those margins will hold. But to the extent that middle-class African Americans are a key to the election, it’s hard to think of many labor unions that represent more middle-class African Americans than LIUNA.
There’s a long way to go to Election Day and Jealous still has some large and powerful groups behind him. But none of this is good for the Democrats. Hogan must be smiling all the way to the hiring hall and beyond.
Disclosure: The author worked for LIUNA in 1994 and 1995 and spent sixteen years working for building trades unions.