New SEIU strategy targets Republicans

One of the state’s most potent political forces is the 700,000-member Service Employees International Union, the liberal, hard-nosed stalwart of the Democratic Party and a political kingmaker.

But the internal reality of SEIU is surprising: A new survey of its membership shows that more than a fourth are registered Republicans or unaffiliated – 87,000 GOP and 93,000 decline to state – which means SEIU can put Republican troops on the ground in key races to elect moderate Republicans.

And that’s exactly what it intends to do – in fact, it’s already under way — as it gears up for the 2012 elections.

“We don’t survive unless we can work Republicans,” said SEIU California’s new executive director, David Kieffer. “We know we have the capacity to play everywhere, and we are going to intervene on the Republican side. We are going to construct a robust GOP operation. We have an opportunity to actually get more moderate Republicans.”

The notion of a Democrat-ruled labor union pushing Republican candidates across the state may come as a surprise. But if a goal is to put together the two-thirds votes needed in the Legislature to approve budgets – and taxes – it makes sense, SEIU says.

Its efforts for Democrats will continue, of course, but systematically devoting major resources to GOP races is a departure from the past.

The new, voter-approved “top two” primaries will be in place with the new districts drawn by an independent commission. In the eyes of SEIU’s Kieffer and others, that increases SEIU’s chances even more on the assumption that independently drawn districts result in more moderate contenders. And in cases where GOP cases where districts are collapsed putting GOP incumbents against each other – SEIU will weigh in for the moderate and against the conservative, as in the potential clash of Assemblymembers Bill Berryhill and Kristin Olsen, Kieffer said.

Last year, he said SEIU spent $2.5 million on swing districts, and the budget for next year is all but certain to be higher. But the SEIU attack won’t be limited to swing districts.

SEIU already is gearing up a district-by-district campaign, a daunting prospect for Republicans who have less local fund-raising and ground-game capacity than Democrats. According to Kieffer, SEIU has 3,000 members in every Senate district, troops that will be available to ring doorbells, plant lawn signs and walk precincts.

The battlegrounds likely will be the Central Valley, the Inland Empire and Orange and San Diego counties.

The union last week launched multimillion-dollar TV ad campaign targeting the districts of five GOP lawmakers, including three in the Senate who were among Republicans negotiating directly with Gov. Brown earlier – Sens. Bill Emmerson of Riverside, Tom Berryhill of Modesto and Anthony Cannella of Ceres, and Assemblymembers Katcho Achadjian of San Luis Obispo and Cameron Smyth of Santa Clarita.  

The ads urge voters to call their local lawmakers to take action to block layoffs of emergency personnel, police and firefighters.

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