AFSCME Council 31, which represents thousands of university, state, county and city employees in Champaign County, has endorsed every Republican in the four countywide contested races this fall.
But the union is backing Democrats in two local legislative races and in most county board contests.
The support for the four countywide candidates — John Farney for auditor, Katie Blakeman for circuit clerk, Gordy Hulten for county clerk and Barb Frasca for county recorder — is unusual but not unprecedented, said Tara McCauley, a staff representative with AFSCME. "It's not unheard of for the union to endorse Republicans. It's true that oftentimes there are more Democrats on our endorsement list than Republicans, but we regularly endorse a lot of Republicans," said McCauley. She said she did not know, though, if the public-employee union had ever endorsed four countywide candidates in Champaign County. The endorsements "most likely" will mean campaign donations and volunteer help for candidates, McCauley said. Some of the endorsements were expected; Farney recently stepped down as a union official, and Hulten and Frasca have "great relationships" with their employees, according to McCauley. The support for Blakeman, who is running against former county board chair Barbara Wysocki, is a different story.
"We interviewed both candidates and we just feel that Katie is the better candidate. We think she'll be a better employer," McCauley said.
She said the union "didn't have a great relationship with" Wysocki when she was county board chair. "Several issues came up over time for county workers with regards to negotiations where we felt that Wysocki wasn't supportive on the issues, or at least not supportive enough," McCauley said. "And Katie was very clear that she wanted to have a very good relationship with her employees and wanted to get their input on how the office should be run." The union is supporting state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, and state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, for re-election, but is staying out of the 104th House District contest between incumbent state Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, and Democrat Michael Langendorf of Urbana.
As for the county board, AFSCME endorsed Republican Jim McGuire (an AFSCME union officer at the University of Illinois) in District 4, but 11 Democrats in other races. It is supporting Brad Diel and Tracy Luchik in District 5, Pattsie Petrie in District 6, Alan Kurtz and Rachel Schwartz in District 7, Giraldo Rosales and Michael Richards in District 8, Astrid Berkson and Ralph Langenheim in District 9, and Lorraine Cowart and Lloyd Carter in District 11.
The union is not backing Democrats Chris Alix and James Quisenberry is District 10, she said, because they had supported a plan, since dropped, to have a referendum this fall on possibly selling the county nursing home, where about 200 AFSCME members are employed.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears in print on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at email@example.com