NY21: Can Doheny win the North Country campaigning against labor unions?

Is taking on “big labor” a good strategy for Matt Doheny? (Photograph: Chris Morris, Adirondack Daily Enterprise)

In most congressional races around the country, it wouldn’t be a big shock to find the Republican campaigning against “big labor,” as Matt Doheny has done in New York’s 21st district.

Doheny’s camp has made unions a big issue in August, arguing that Democratic incumbent Bill Owens is “beholden to big labor” and has “taken votes that threaten to kill American manufacturing jobs.

“Labor unions have poured $513,450 into Bill Owens’ campaign coffers, including $91,500 before he took a single vote,” said Matt Doheny, the Republican, Independence and Conservative candidate in the 21st Congressional District.

“In turn, my opponent is repaying that generosity by voting to protect the interests of labor leadership.”

The issue has caught some traction, with the Glens Falls Post Star headlining a story “Doheny slams Owens on labor issues.”

“These are labor leaders tied with (President Barack) Obama that my opponent marches in lockstep with,” Doheny told the paper.

The Post Star noted that in one week, Doheny’s campaign issued three separate press releases, slamming Owens for his union ties.

What’s interesting is how different this is from the typical line taken by Republicans seeking office in the North Country.

The last GOP congressman to hold the region’s House seat, John McHugh, regularly sought and received the endorsement of big labor unions.

Former Republican assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, from Gouverneur, is married to Ron McDougall, head of the Central Trades and Labor Council, which reportedly has 24,000 union members in Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis Counties.

The union representing prison guards in the North Country, NYSCOPBA, has also been among the largest contributors to the campaign war chest of Republican state Senator Betty Little from Queensbury.

Doheny’s decision to take a more traditional Republican line, campaigning against labor, may reflect a simple political reality:  unions seem fairly locked in to their backing of Owens.  Labor volunteers and donors played a big part in his narrow victories in 2009 and 2010.

Winning them over, or even softening their stance, would be a heavy lift; and that kind of effort might jar Conservative and tea party supporters who have swung firmly into Doheny’s camp.

Thanks in part to the big stand-off in Wisconsin, taking a hard line with unions — particularly public employee unions — has become a kind of badge of honor for Republicans.

Doheny also seems sincerely convinced that labor initiatives, including requirements that some jobs use union workers and limits on the moving of factory operations between states, are bad for the economy.

It’s unclear though how his stance will play in November.  Union members in the public and private sectors make up a big chunk of the voters in the North Country, from blue collar workers in the St. Lawrence Valley to white collar school teachers in the Adirondacks.

On the other hand, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has taken a fairly tough line with labor leaders and fared just fine politically.

In his blog, Watertown Mayor Jeff Graham questioned the GOP candidate’s strategy, praising Doheny for being a “free marketeer” but also calling the approach “risky.”

“Matt Doheny is doing something his GOP predecessors wouldn’t do,” Graham wrote.

“That is take on Big Labor.  In the past, Republican pols have descended the stairs into the basement of the former Clearview Restaurant in Gouverneur to seek and usually get the endorsement of the labor bosses assembled.”

So we’ll see down the stretch how good a fit the anti-union posture is for the North Country and the 21st district.

Is Doheny tapping into a vein of anti-labor sentiment that will power him past Owens?  Or is he championing a national message that’s out of sync with our region?

As always, comments welcome.

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38 Responses to “NY21: Can Doheny win the North Country campaigning against labor unions?”

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  1. mervel says:

    I am glad he is doing it because it will give an answer to your question, I have no idea, but at least he is providing a clear choice. My gut tells me there is not enough people who agree with him in the North Country, but I don’t know?

    In some ways I think it is healthy that Doheny is running a traditional Republican campaign versus just fighting it out for garnering support from whoever he can get a favor from or offer a favor too, as other NY Republicans have done, who are essentially indistinguishable from Democrats.

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  2. TomL says:

    Bill Owens has pitched his tent in the middle ground formerly claimed by John McHugh. McHugh, though a Republican, maintained good relations with labor unions. The history of NY21 is that this is what the majority of voters want in this CD.

    Doheny, by running to the right of Owens, and especially running against labor in a district that is full of unionized workers, is running to the right of the majority of voters here, I think. He has, smartly, avoided talking about the social issues that motivate some of the national republican base.

    I think Owens has assembled sufficient backing to maintain the seat, the way that McHugh did previously. This year will be a test – apparently the national republican party and PACS are planning to dump money on this district, since they see Owens as highly vulnerable.

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  3. Pete Klein says:

    If Doheny doesn’t like unions, I would guess he doesn’t like union workers. If he doesn’t like union workers, why would anyone think he likes any workers other than those who own a business?
    I wouldn’t be surprised if he also doesn’t want an increase in the minimum wage but is probably in favor of lower the taxes for the rich.

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  4. John Warren says:

    There is no such thing as “big labor”.

    Unionized workers make up just 12% of all workers, typically police, fire, teachers, and nurses.

    This piece does exactly what Doheny had hoped – he got the media to discuss an imaginary enemy as if it were real and to even use Doheny’s doublespeak code words.

    That’s not reporting – that’s parroting.

    If you are interested in discussing inappropriate or out of scale influence on our elections – YOU NEED TO START WITH CORPORATIONS!

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  5. Mervel says:

    So what big corporations are in the North Country?

    The major industry is 1) local government 2) prisons (also gov.) 3) Universities 4) Dairy Farming 5) Tourism 6) some left over heavy industry in the Seaway Valley (Alcoa).

    So what corporations should we be fighting up here? I mean looks to me like we are usually begging ANY big corporation to come up here.

    St. Lawrence County Unemployment rate is now standing at 11.1%, the only large corporation left in SLC is Alcoa and we are begging them to keep on producing. So yeah things are great if you can just get rid of the big corporations, everyone loves poverty and unemployment.

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  6. Mervel says:

    Also of those industries I mentioned above, the ARE heavily unionized, so Doheny is taking on a pretty strong force in the North Country at least, particularly with the high taxes being paid by many who are very resentful of these union contracts that their taxes are going toward.

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  7. Peter Hahn says:

    Maybe they (Doheney’s campaign) can argue that “big labor” is the same as “union bosses”, and not in the interest of the average unionized worker. I would personally disagree with that, but they might convince the voters that was the case. Otherwise, the north country has a lot of unionized state employees who are members of and represented by of “big labor”. Thats a lot of voters to antagonize.

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  8. Pete Klein says:

    Decent pay, safety on the job, health insurance, holidays, all these and more were pioneered by unions, often after blood and guts were spilled.
    If you don’t like what union workers are getting, maybe your problem is that you should organize where you work – presuming you must be envious.
    Or maybe you would just like to go back to the good old days of the Gilded Age when the millionaires got rich by paying peanuts to workers.
    Oh, wait! Isn’t that where we are headed?

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  9. Mervel says:

    True Peter. Which is why it might be kind of a risky strategy, the unions in the NC also do a good job of organizing their members to vote.

    But I just think it is a better choice, before you had two people with the same basic beliefs (basically I bring home the bacon) fighting over the same endorsements based on favors and inside relationships.

    Now there is a true choice. I think the choice will be Owens, but at least it will be based on something.

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  10. John Warren says:

    According to the Center for Responsive Government, both candidates have received the vast majority of their money from large contributors:

    Matt Doheny 91%
    Bill Owens 92%

    Of the top 25 contributions to these candidates:

    12 corporations (about $138,500)
    8 PACS ($91,000)
    7 Unions ($70,124)

    The top 5 contributors reported in this race so far (both candidates) – 4 Corporations, 2 PACS, and 1 Union:

    Deutsche Bank AG $27,000
    Perella Weinberg Partners $20,500
    Prosperity PAC $17,500
    New Democrat Coalition $13,500
    Exelon Corp $11,000
    Operating Engineers Union $10,250
    Honeywell International $10,124

    The next 20 largest contributions (all $10,000 but two, which gave $9,000 and $9,500) – 8 corporations, 6 PACS, and 6 unions:

    8 Corporations:
    Cooper Industries
    Desco Capital
    Fti
    Maeva Group
    American Crystal Sugar
    BlackRobe Capital Partners
    Northrop Grumman
    Blue Cross/Blue Shield

    6 PACS:
    Every Republican is Crucial PAC
    Freedom Project
    Continuing a Majority Party Action Cmte
    AmeriPAC: The Fund for a Greater America
    PAC to the Future
    Renew America PAC

    6 Unions:
    American Federation of Teachers
    American Fedn of St/Cnty/Munic Employees
    Service Employees International Union
    Intl Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
    Plumbers/Pipefitters Union
    United Steelworkers

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  11. A superrich venture capitalist campaigning against working class people? Not sure that’s going to make Owens quake in his boots.

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  12. Peter Hahn says:

    There are many conservative “blue-collar” unionized employees in the north country. They might well buy that argument.

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  13. Mervel says:

    Those are all pretty small numbers, I just don’t see corporations as a major force one way or the other in the district. However certainly they will try to influence both guys as they are going to congress and will have votes to trade.

    If anything if a candidate could say I am in with corporations and I can bring them here this would be a positive not a negative. The desire of most people for jobs and employment in an area that has high rates of unemployment and poverty and almost no active business or corporations existing in the region could outweigh their distrust of corporations.

    I mean look around we can see the impact of having no corporations and a very weak business sector-=poverty.

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  14. tootightmike says:

    The man has nothing to say and if he wins, it will stand as proof that the voters soft brains can be bought with enough meaningless advertising.

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  15. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    It’s not surprising that he rails against unions given he’s a member of the corporate elite that has for 30+ years supported candidates in Congress and the White House who have directly, via legislation and control of the Federal Labor Relations Board, done everything to weaken unions in this country.

    The result, as some far smarter than I have made the case, is the continued destruction of the middle class that made this country what it once was. The results of this decades long “war on unionism” is right before our eyes. Wage stagnation, more and more wealth concentrated in the hands of the upper class, etc.

    As I see it, Doheny and his fellow Republicans are, yet again, blaming unions, “big gov’t,” corporate taxes, regulations, etc. for the financial mess we find ourselves in. I only hope people realize the lie behind all this before they hand over even more control to this bunch who will only exacerbate the problem.

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  16. mervel says:

    But if the Republicans can’t make the case now, given the utter and total impotence that this administration and the Democratic Congress has demonstrated in its inability to provide jobs for middle income Americans, I think they are done for a long time.

    It is kind of like a last ditch effort, but it seems like the same old story, big government etc, blah blah and they will go to congress and do nothing. At least Owens seems to do some things and seems pretty stable. But you know Owens and Doheny have much more in common with each other than they do the average north country middle income family.

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  17. mervel says:

    In the end, Owens like Obama will always go with the bankers over the unions, the Unions go with the bankers over the union members for that matter.

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  18. Pete Klein says:

    One of the old union sayings is “United we stand. Divided we fall.”
    How true.
    Business realizes this truism and has united in its opposition to unions. Business has been busy convincing many who are not in a union that union workers are overpaid and that they would be better off if it weren’t for unions, especially unions that fight for public employees. The divide and conquer trick here is to sow the seeds of envy. The joke here is that while it’s okay for you to resent what someone working for the county, town or state is making, you must not be envious of what millionaires and billionaires are making because that would be, gasp, class warfare.

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  19. It's Still All Bush's Fault says:

    Jealousy is a terrible thing. Unfortunately, the politicians attempt to inflame that jealosy as a way to rally votes. The Republicans demonize the unions and the Democrats demonize the rich. Since a fair share of the population reacts to the “Look what they got! That ain’t fair” mantra, the tactic will continue to be used.

    Both sides are playing to a large crowd. The rich make up 1% and the unions make up 12%. That leaves a lot of people in the “middle”.

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  20. Mervel says:

    Excellent point bush. I think it is easier to inflame this sort of envy than it is to deal with the very hard problems we are facing.

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  21. Mervel says:

    The fact is we need both. We need a vibrant business community and we need big companies and corporations that are profitable. We also need Unions to protect the interests of labor at these business enterprises.

    Strong unions are not worth much if there are not strong companies to pay union wages.

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  22. Mervel says:

    Government is a different story, I don’t know the point of government unions.

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  23. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Government unions are necessary because politicians run government and there is the danger the hiring process becomes completely political.

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  24. mervel says:

    So the unions are protecting the taxpayers?

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  25. mervel says:

    Unions represent labor when negotiating with the owners of capital, it makes sense. The point of a union is to get a larger slice of the pie for labor, to take more from the owners of the profits that they make, that is the point. I think it is a valid and important function.

    There is no capital or profits in government, in government the workers are employed by the taxpayer, they are negotiating for more taxes taking money from the taxpayers. Which is fine, but it serves no societal purpose, particularly in a county with a lot of poverty and high property taxes. People have a right to be resentful. If Donehey can latch onto that simmering anger he may get some votes. Of course the other side is that the public unions are organized and strong and I think will be stronger than those who are made about the bloated county, school and village payrolls.

    I agree with FDR, government unions should not be allowed.

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  26. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    The function of Unions isn’t just to make more money for union members. Unions also set standards of appropriate skill levels for various trades, help with education for members in their particular fields, provide legal protection for members in disputes centering around their jobs, oversee work environments to assure safety, and they help to protect workers against unfair labor practices.

    Everything Unions have fought for over the decades has been for a reason. Teacher tenure was put in place because there was a time when teachers could be fired so that an administrator could open up a job slot for their nephew, or because a young teacher refused the sexual advances of a principal, or because a young single female teacher was seen in a bar unescorted. There are innumerable reasons that public sector workers need protection by unions. When there is a change in political administration there is a tendency by some to try to get rid of people and replace them with friends and supporters.

    Are there lots of stories of unions doing petty and unproductive things? Sure. There must be checks and balances on everything, but it is irresponsible to propose that we eliminate unions from government jobs.

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  27. Mervel says:

    Public unions do a great job of representing public employees I don’t deny that and I agree they provide a counter-balance to government administrators.

    I don’t think they should be allowed to lobby politically however, why would you have a union elect the people they will be negotiating against. It is an adversarial relationship and SHOULD be an adversarial relationship.

    As a taxpayer I want my representative to squeeze every last dollar out of the union that is possible to strike the best deal for me, is that happening are the interests of the taxpayers being represented in negotiations with public unions?

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  28. Mervel says:

    Doheney should lay out a plan to show how he is going to get rid of 11.1% unemployment in SLC and some of the highest rates of poverty in the entire state. I don’t think a strategy of attacking the main employer and their unions in the county is very smart. He may want to show how he would enable private enterprise to move into the county and thrive.

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  29. John Warren says:

    “As a taxpayer I want my representative to squeeze every last dollar out of the union that is possible to strike the best deal for me”

    In other words, you want the people who work for you to be paid the lowest possible wage.

    Nice. Is that what you get paid?

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  30. Mervel says:

    If I was him I would go get the largest corporation involved in Fracking and show how he supports them and will push for them to come into the North Country and how many high paying jobs that would bring into the area.

    That would certainly distinguish him from the others.

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  31. Mervel says:

    John I want them to be paid the market wage for a good quality service. The role of the employer is to negotiate for ME the taxpayer, the role of the Union is to negotiate for the worker they represent.

    Is that too much to ask? Well in NYS it is, as the people negotiating for the taxpayer are actually friends and benefactors of the unions that supported their election. It is a very cozy deal.

    This is the reason that people like FDR felt that unions had no place in government service.

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  32. Walker says:

    “…why would you have a union elect the people they will be negotiating against.”

    Good point, Mervel. It applies equally well to the role of Congress in regulating business– it’s why corporate money should not be allowed in political advertizing.

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  33. mervel says:

    I would agree Walker it does apply across the board. Of course Congress is not setting and negotiating the employment contracts and salaries of the CEO’s, yet.

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  34. mervel says:

    But how exactly is Doheny going to create jobs and address our poverty?

    Attacking public unions has some traction, but politics based on resentment in general is not a good long term strategy.

    The fact is as a Republican he should embrace the role and talk exactly why he can generate jobs and from where.

    As of yet I am not sure I see it from him?

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  35. Walker says:

    I don’t know Mervel, but it seems to me that Republicans can’t really talk about directly generating jobs, because the Republican mantra is “get government out of the way and the jobs will spring up over night.” Democrats can talk about creating jobs directly via funding infrastructure projects, but a Republican would be boiled in oil by their base for suggesting any such thing. Oh, unless it’s prisons or defense, which somehow get a pass.

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  36. Walker says:

    And of course the “get government out of the way” thing falls flat these days, at least for anyone who was paying attention to what happened after eight years of W getting government out of the way.

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  37. mervel says:

    Well one quick way is to be a vocal advocate of oil and natural gas exploration in the north country. I mean you have counties with a lot of unemployed blue collar workers and high rates of poverty. He has to really say look these anti-fracking guys are killing jobs and they could care less about you being unemployed, they only care about giving their union buddies favors, and by the way, you have to pay for those favors with your property taxes.

    I think its the way to go for him. But I don’t think he has the guts for it, and thus will probably lose anyway.

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  38. Walker says:

    Mervel, the Marcellus Shale region stops way south of the North Country.

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