Unions Turn Up Heat on GOP

Federal employee unions are still bitter about the partial shutdowns of the federal government last winter, and they're taking out their anger on Republican congressional candidates.

This week, the American Federation of Government Employees announced its endorsement of hundreds of congressional candidates, almost all of them Democrats. AFGE has been running a campaign called "Remember in November" since the beginning of the year to encourage its members to help the Democrats retake control of Congress.

"Of all the labor groups involved with this year's campaign," The Wall Street Journal reported recently, "none is more active than federal workers."

AFGE has targeted candidates across the country, but has reserved its harshest criticism for Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Subcommittee on the Civil Service. In a fundraising letter earlier this year, AFGE President John Sturdivant called Mica "the most dangerous man in history ever to chair a civil service committee or subcomittee in Congress. . . . He is a mean-spirited, anti-government, anti-government worker and anti-union fanatic."

In an interview with the Journal earlier this month, Mica practically dared AFGE to try to oust him. "Let them come on," he said. "Not only will we cream them there, but they will rue the day they ever crossed me."

Federal union members have long favored Democrats over Republicans, but this year, for the first time in a presidential election cycle, the loosening of Hatch Act restrictions has allowed them to actively participate in such efforts as political rallies, phone banks, voter registration efforts and get-out-the-vote drives.

Union officials say that new labor-management partnership agreements at many federal agencies have given union members an incentive to be more vocal about defending their agencies and government as a whole. And the shutdowns, they say, galvanized federal employee opposition to the Republican Congress.

Even House Speaker Newt Gingrich admitted yesterday in an interview with The Washington Post that the Republican strategy in forcing the shutdowns was "a mistake."

"In retrospect, if I were doing it all over again, we would consciously avoid the government shutdown," Gingrich said. "It was clearly wrong."

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