Thursday, August 16, 2001

Unions want more from Taft

Labor leaders' endorsement a prize in race for governor

By John McCarthy
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Gov. Bob Taft will have to do more to please organized labor if he expects blue-collar support in his campaign for re-election, the head of Ohio's largest labor group said Wednesday.

        Mr. Taft and Democrat Tim Hagan are the only candidates for the office so far, with nine months to go before the primary election.

Gov. Taft
        Mr. Hagan enjoyed the support of labor groups as a Cuyahoga County commissioner for 16 years, ending in 1998. Mr. Taft has reached out to labor and in 1999 became the first Republican governor in memory to speak at the AFL-CIO's annual meeting.

        Ohio AFL-CIO President William Burga said Wednesday that the 800,000-member union's executive board will decide whether to endorse a candidate before the May 8 primary. Mr. Taft's policies are better for workers than those of his Republican predecessor, George Voinovich, but organized labor isn't moving to back him, Mr. Burga said.

        “The other side is that many feel he hasn't shown leadership. We don't have any real fight with him, but we think he can do a lot better,” Mr. Burga said.

        Mr. Taft isn't ready to concede the labor vote, said Mark Weaver, a consultant to the governor's re-election campaign.

        “It's hard to say where the labor unions will fall next year,” Mr. Weaver said. “It's easy to say most working men and women think Gov. Taft is doing a good job.”

        Mr. Hagan, 55, said he would file papers with the Secretary of State's office to formally open a campaign. That would allow him to raise the money to compete with Mr. Taft, who already has about $2 million in his campaign treasury. Mr. Hagan had planned to officially announce his candidacy on Aug. 15 but has delayed that to September to allow time to put the finishing touches on his campaign.

        Mr. Hagan's fund raising could be helped by his wife, Kate Mulgrew, who played Capt. Janeway on the television series Star Trek: Voyager.

        GOP leaders have portrayed Mr. Hagan's stances against the death penalty and in favor of abortion rights as too liberal for Ohio voters. Republican candidates have been elected to all statewide executive offices and majorities in the Legislature since 1994.

        Mr. Burga said voters shouldn't be fooled by the tag.

        “I don't know what too liberal means if it means he's for working families. I imagine it's people who don't want him elected saying that,” Mr. Burga said.

        Republican leaders have ruled out a tax increase to pay for more state funding of schools, an idea that Mr. Hagan said should not be rejected.

        Mr. Taft and other Republican leaders employ a double standard when it comes to taxes, Mr. Hagan said. While opposing a statewide tax increase, they give millions of dollars to Ohio businesses each year in tax breaks, he said.

        “The problem with everybody in Columbus is you can't have an honest discussion without people running for cover on taxes,” Mr. Hagan said. “They've given tax breaks to everybody but their mother.”

        Other Democrats considering a campaign include U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown, who is waiting for the Legislature to redraw congressional districts, expected early next year. Ohio is losing one of its 19 seats in Congress.

        Democratic state Sens. Eric Fingerhut of Cleveland and Leigh Herington of Ravenna said they would consider a statewide run, but emphasized that they have agreed to support a competitive candidate. Both described Mr. Hagan as such a candidate.


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