Call it Illinois’ version of “Operation Chaos.” One major public employee union is urging members who typically vote Democratic to pull a switch and vote in the Republican Primary for governor on March 18.
“My advice is that, if you are a suburban or downstate Democrat or Independent and you care about public education, you should vote in the Republican Primary for Kirk Dillard,” said Illinois Education Association President Cindy Klickna in the union’s endorsement of Dillard.
The union has sent pamphlets to its members urging those of all political persuasions to cast ballots for Dillard, citing his opposition to the pension reform law that passed last year and his support for collective bargaining rights.
The move underscores the sentiment public employee unions have toward GOP frontrunner Bruce Rauner, who has targeted “corrupt union bosses” in his campaign, supported more charter schools, and advocated that public employees move away from a pension plan and into a 401K.
The IEA is the state’s largest teachers union with 130,000 members, all outside the City of Chicago. The Illinois Federation of Teachers, the state’s second largest teachers union, has also endorsed Dillard, as has the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
AFSCME took a more diplomatic approach to the crossover issue, saying it doesn’t like to tell its members what to do, but that the choice is stark.
“The Democratic Primary isn’t very contested,” said AFSCME Council 31 Political Director John Cameron. “We want all of our members to know what the stakes are, and that they will choose to exercise their voice accordingly.”
An IFT spokesperson admits her union is in uncharted territory, having never set foot in a Republican Gubernatorial Primary, and having endorsed only one Republican ever in the general election: Jim Thompson in 1986.
“It speaks to how critical this election is, and how important it is for us to inform our members,” said IFT spokesperson Aviva Bowen.
“The candidacy of Bruce Rauner puts things in a different perspective,” said IEA spokesperson Charles Barron. “It’s very important the candidates for governor believe in public education and collective bargaining rights.”
Rauner’s campaign countered today with a bit of irony: “From endorsing Barack Obama to taking hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions from some of Pat Quinn's biggest allies, it's clear Kirk Dillard should be running in the Democrat Primary.”
Also today, Illinois Freedom PAC, an anti-Rauner independent expenditure group founded by the Democratic Governors Association, announced it was pulling out of its TV ad campaign, just one week before the primary election. It set off speculation that the group, overwhelmingly supported by labor unions, had conceded that Rauner was too far ahead for any of his challengers to catch up.
AFSCME’s Cameron says the union would rather focus its resources on promoting Dillard than opposing Rauner.
The Chicago Teachers Union says it will not be making endorsements in either Gubernatorial Primary, instead focusing its resources on unseating incumbent state legislators Toni Berrios and Christian Mitchell in their respective primaries.