By TIM ROWDEN
Campaigns for next year’s legislative races in Illinois and Missouri are beginning to take shape, with candidates visiting Labor clubs and federations seeking their support.
In Illinois, Jonathon Forbes, the first announced Democratic candidate in the 111th House district, which includes Alton and much of Madison County, recently visited the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor.
Forbes, an attorney with the Gori Julian asbestos and mesothelioma firm, is seeking to replace veteran Democratic legislator Dan Beiser, who is not running for re-election.
Forbes has been actively involved with the Federation and led charity collections and distributions in the Metro-East. He is pro-gun and anti-abortion, positions he said reflect the opinions of district residents. He also is a strong defender of labor unions.
“You guys all know me,” Forbes said. “One hundred percent, I’m going to be with Labor. I’m a Labor person who’s a Democrat, not a Democrat who’s a Labor person. I oppose ‘right-to-work,’ and I’ll support prevailing wage and every other issue you’ve got.”
Forbes has worked on asbestos, benzene and personal injury cases and received the Madison County Friend of Labor Award in 2006.
“I’m with unions for one reason,” Forbes said. “Not to get your support, not to get anything else, but because I believe in what you do. This is where my heart is and I’ll be with you, no matter what.”
In Missouri, Representatives Doug Beck (D-Affton), a member of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562; Representative Bob Burns (D-Affton), a retired member of Teamster Local 600; and Sarah Unsicker (D-Shrewsbury) visited the South St. Louis Labor Club to discuss this year’s tumultuous legislative session, which included passage of so-called “right-to-work” (RTW) legislation and the subsequent herculean effort by union members and working families to collect more than 310,000 signatures on a petition to put repeal of the deceptive, anti-union law on the 2018 ballot for voters to decide.
“When RTW went through, it was one of the worst days of my life in the Capitol,” Beck said. “The best day was when we turned in 310,567 signatures and the entire Capitol was filled with union members. We thought there were 5,000 union members there, but the Capitol police said there were 10,000.”
The successful petition drive and the massive turnout at the State Capitol in Jefferson City to turn in the signatures has gotten the attention of Republican legislators who supported RTW, he said.
“Republicans are scared because the vote is coming in 2018,” Beck said. “I think it’s something we can use to our advantage in the next session.”
“In Jefferson City, a lot of times, Republicans and Democrats are working from a different set of facts,” Unsicker said. “Sometimes they just don’t know and we have to educate them. Other times, they try to sell things that aren’t right, and that’s what they’re going to do with RTW. They’re going to try to sell it as a job creator. We need to let people know that’s not right and what unions do for our jobs, for our families and for our communities.”
TURNING BACK TIME
Burns brought a copy of a picture of children coal miners that hangs on the wall in his union hall under the words “Never Again!” promoting the Solidarity Scholarship for children of union members.
“The wealthy elite are trying to put those kids back in the coal mines,” Burns said. “Because that’s what’s going on in China with child and prison labor that our union members are having to compete with.
“Our labor union lives are on the line here,” Burns said. “The lives of our labor union organizations are on the line. They hate us because we are the last voice for workers’ independence in the whole world.”
Also attending the Labor Club meeting were some new faces, including Mike Revis, a Democrat from Fenton who is running in the special election to replace worker-friendly Republican Representative John McCaherty of Fenton.
McCaherty resigned in September to focus on the 2018 campaign for Jefferson County executive.
Revis, the son of a union carpenter and union teacher, is a procurement manager at Anheuser-Busch.
“It’s because of their unions that I was able to grow up in the home that I did, go to a good school and have health care,” Revise said. “When I saw how quickly RTW passed, I knew I had to do more because I’ve seen firsthand the good unions do for good, hardworking people working to provide for their families.”
Also attending the meeting were Mark Osmack, an Army veteran and former member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655, and Cort VanOstran, an attorney with Gray, Ritter & Graham PC, both of whom are seeking the Democratic nomination to try to unseat incumbent Republican U.S. Representative Ann Wagner of Ballwin.
Osmack served two tours in Afghanistan and received a Bronze Star.
“I want to make sure you know that I am with you, whether I win or lose,” Osmack said. “We need to keep going until next November to make sure we defeat RTW and we keep union strong going forward.”
Osmack has a graduate degree from George Washington University and previously worked as an aide to then-U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, now a Democratic senator in Illinois.
VanOstran handles legal cases representing farmers against corporations. He also teaches at Washington University’s law school.
It may be a wide-open race for Wagner’s seat. She recently announced she is no longer considering a run against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.