SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Either way you slice it, the decision of several Illinois teachers unions to endorse Republican state Sen. Kirk Dillard in the GOP gubernatorial primary smells kind of funny.
If they really intend to endorse Dillard for governor all the way through the general election (assuming he wins the primary), the unions are showing that they’re willing to trade their longtime loyalty to the Democratic Party in exchange for a candidate who backs their position on pension reform.
Several public sector unions, including the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, recently sued several state officials, including Gov. Pat Quinn, the presumptive Democratic nominee, over a recently approved state pension reform law which scaled back cost-of-living increases for retired state employees and raised the eligibility age for pensions.
Dillard, described as a moderate Republican, pleased the unions by voting against the law.
If that was their motivation for endorsing Dillard in the primary, then IllinoisWatchdog.org got it right when it suggested that the unions “don’t care about Republican or Democrat. They only care about pensions.”
Union officials certainly give that impression.
“Sen. Dillard supports our fight for adequate funding for public education and he stood up to tremendous pressure and voted against the unfair and unconstitutional pension bill,” IEA President Cindy Klicnka said.
Longtime Democrats might be a bit offended by the Dillard endorsement, regardless of how they feel about pension reform. For decades Democratic state officials have fought to implement the agenda of the teachers unions and other public sector unions, and could usually count on across-the-board union support at election time.
Now a Democratic governor commits the sin of approving a pension reform bill that takes away a few bucks from retirees, and the unions are suddenly backing a Republican.
The late, great Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (the dad) is probably rolling over in his grave.
But not everyone is convinced that the Democrats really want Dillard to be the next governor. Some believe that, with Quinn running unopposed in the Democratic primary, the unions are taking advantage of the opportunity to interfere in the Republican primary.
The suspicion is that their love for Dillard is lukewarm at best, and they are more interested in defeating conservative businessman Bruce Rauner, who is considered the frontrunner in the four candidate GOP race.
As a statement from the Illinois branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said, “It is critically important that AFSCME members do their part to support Kirk Dillard and defeat Bruce Rauner.”
David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, told Watchdog.org that the unions fear Rauner would pursue the same agenda as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who stripped collective bargaining privileges from most public sector unions.
Considering that fear, union officials may be using Dillard to knock off Rauner in the primary, they may drop Dillard and kiss and make up with Quinn during the general election. While there is nothing new or illegal about this type of maneuvering, it smacks of dishonesty and political mischief.
Regular Republican and independent voters should choose the Republican nominee. Democrats should stay out of it, particularly if their interest is superficial and they have no intention of supporting the GOP candidate in November.