Gov. Pat Quinn | Sun-Times Media files
Updated: January 12, 2014 6:43AM
WASHINGTON — Gov. Pat Quinn met with leaders of trade unions who have been his steadfast supporters during a two-day visit here, shoring up his campaign fund-raising base even as public sector labor chiefs back home are angry with him over the pension deal.
Quinn met on this trip with leaders from the Bricklayers, Teamsters, the Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers and the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters. Quinn reminded me UA’s president is William Hite, who was a student at Brother Rice when he was at Fenwick High.
“Our state is doing the biggest infrastructure program in the country. That is very popular with working people and labor unions,” Quinn told me.
Quinn arrived Monday for the annual meeting of the Democratic Governors Association, the first session of a panel President Barack Obama tapped him for dealing with climate-related disasters and huddles at the Treasury and Transportation departments over funding and other assistance for Illinois projects and programs.
For months now, Quinn’s advisers have been telling me that the governor was not focusing on his 2014 re-election bid until there was some solution to the pension mess. With the pension bill now signed, Quinn is slowly ramping up. As of Sept. 30 he had only $2.9 million in his main campaign fund, which is pocket change for a general election statewide contest in Illinois.
Quinn’s political operation is skeletal, which has some of his backers worried. Quinn sees no need at this stage to put together a data-digital-social media-driven operation that is the hallmark of many campaigns because, he told me, he has an army of foot soldiers.
“There is no substitute for folks who go door to door. We did our petition drive in 10 days, got 55,000 names to activate that,” Quinn said.
Quinn and I talked Tuesday after his meeting of the new State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, Obama created on Nov. 1.
“Timely for Illinois,” Quinn said, ticking off the draughts, floods and the latest, the devastating tornadoes destroying Washington, Ill. “Lots of bad things” have hit the state, and the task force in its next three meetings and beyond will be looking at how to respond — and possibly avoid — disasters, Quinn told me.
We are huddling in a car near the White House because of the deep freeze outside. After our interview, Quinn was off to a lunch with leaders of the Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers union. Following lunch, Quinn had a meeting with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to discuss, among other projects, South Suburban Airport funding.
Labor is not monolithic. Trade and public sector unions, while united on the need for strong labor organizations, have different issues and goals. In Illinois, Quinn starts 2014 with labor divided.
GOP hopeful Bruce Rauner pumped enough of his own money into his contest to lift donations caps for all contenders. Quinn heads into 2014 needing major contributions from national unions — either directly or into third party political action committees that will be bolstering his bid.
The Democratic Governors Association is a political organization; it first job is to re-elect Democratic incumbents. Quinn is one of 11 Democratic governors up for re-election in 2014, which makes him a top priority of the DGA. At a DGA holiday party on Monday night, Quinn told me he chatted with Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union. Before that, Quinn had a finance event with labor leaders.
“We are fully committed to helping Gov. Quinn win re-election,” DGA spokesman Danny Kanner told me. “Republicans underestimate him at their own peril.”
Quinn was optimistic about union support.
Said Quinn, “We were in a tough battle in 2010 and labor unions were very helpful to me and I expect them to be there again.”