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Gov. Pat Quinn: some GOP governors on anti-union "ideological crusade"

WASHINGTON — As GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker continues in a standoff with labor, Democratic Illinois Gov. Quinn told me some GOP governors are on an “ideological crusade” to strip away union collective-bargaining rights in order to reduce the political power of organized labor.

Quinn flew in Friday for the National Governors Association winter meeting, piggybacking visits to the White House and Capitol Hill and working in some politics. He huddled with national union leaders as tens of thousands in Madison, Wis., protest Walker’s bid to take away most collective-bargaining rights of public employees.

This comes as some Democratic state lawmakers from Wisconsin and Indiana have holed up in Illinois in order to deny quorums back in their state legislatures.

Unions — especially public employee unions — are a major source of Democratic votes, political contributions and campaign foot soldiers. The political clout of these unions could be diminished if union collective-bargaining laws are weakened.

“I think some of the animus against the unions, the public employee unions, is motivated by their political activities in the past, and I don’t think that is right,” Quinn told me.

“I have had strong disagreements on policy with AFSCME. They did not support our public pension reform at all, nor did the teachers unions, both IEA and IFT, but we were able to get that done and signed into law and we worked with them on a variety of other issues. But clearly some of the other Republican governors are on an ideological crusade.”

Quinn and I talked over lunch at the J.W. Marriott here, where the NGA is meeting, with Quinn ordering only a plate of sauted asparagus and tea.

In the wake of 2010 Republican victories across the nation, most of the spotlight at the NGA meeting is on GOP governors — some who may run for president in 2012 and others who are taking on the unions.

Quinn said Walker, elected last November, and GOP New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has been most public about poaching jobs from Illinois in the wake of an Illinois state income tax hike, are being unduly “provocative.” It’s all about political “theater,” Quinn said.

Quinn and other Democratic governors are strategizing with union leaders while here.

“We are not sympathetic at all to Scott Walker. We think he is on the wrong track, the very wrong track,” Quinn said. On Tuesday in Washington Quinn will address the AFL-CIO’s Executive Council meeting. Quinn’s top political operatives are also in D.C.: David Rosen, his fund-raiser, and Holly Copeland, the chief operating officer of his political organization.

Poaching governors

After Quinn signed into law a state income tax hike –raising the rate for business to 7 percent from 4.8 percent — the individual rate rises to 5 percent from 3 percent — Christie, Walker and GOP Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels pitched Illinois business to move to their states. Christie was the most aggressive, running newspaper and radio ads in Illinois and stopping earlier this month at the Union League Club in Chicago.

At the NGA, I asked several governors if these sales calls were unseemly; after all, the tables could be turned on them.

“It’s all going on right now already. I just did it publicly,” Christie told me. “You don’t think it’s going on privately in every state? It absolutely did. [Former Pennsylvania] Gov. [Ed] Rendell poached an enormous amount of business from New Jersey during his time as governor. This stuff happens all the time privately, I just did it publicly.”

Daniels told me, “I think it is the most appropriate thing we do . . . build a good business climate and go find people who want to take advantage of it.”

I asked Washington State Gov. Christine Gregoire, a Democrat and the NGA chair, what she thought of governors coming to Illinois to steal jobs.

“Going over and stealing from someplace else really isn’t the future for them,” Gregoire said. “Their future is building their own economic stability inside their state . . . my policy as governor is anybody who wants to come to Washington State is welcome. I am not out trying to steal a company from my colleagues.”

Quinn on remap

When it comes to remapping congressional districts following the 2010 census, where Illinois will lose a seat, Quinn told me he will not allow a repeat of what happened after the 2000 census when the House incumbents — Democrats and Republicans — cut deals with other to try to create safe districts for themselves.

“I don’t think it is right that the incumbent members just draw the districts as they did last time, and hand it over to the speaker of the [Illinois] House and the president of the [Illinois] Senate” for approval. “I don’t think that is the way to go, that is not the way it is supposed to go. . . . So we will try to have a map that does not have so many unusual lines.”

It’s not clear yet where the seat will be lost — or how the Hispanic and suburban population gains will be treated when it comes to drawing new districts. Said Quinn, “My job is to make sure it is fair and competitive.”