On Tuesday of this past week, Hardy Myers confirmed the well orchestrated rumor that he would not seek re-election as Oregon Attorney
General. That means every statewide office (except governor) is an open seat. Bill Bradbury is barred by terms limits from running again for Secretary of State. Randall Edwards will not be seeking re-election as State Treasurer and now Myers has announced he will not seek re-election. It’s a trifecta. And nobody is more focused on getting their candidates to fill those offices than the public employees unions.

Please note that I said public employees unions and not their political action committees. After all, the public employees unions do just about nothing other than politics. And there is a good reason for that. Politics is what guarantees them higher salaries, bigger benefits, ease in organizing and assurance that money for the unions will continue to be collected by the government and remitted monthly to their coffers. That amount collected by state, county and municipal governments is the tidy sum of about $58 million every election cycle. That amount of money goes a long ways to making sure that Democrats control every statewide office and both houses of the legislature. And control is what matters.

With the Democrats in control of the legislature for the first time in over a dozen years, the public employees unions gained significant salary increases, preservation and funding of the gold plated PERS system, and a new law that eliminates the need for elections for union organizing efforts. Now the public employee unions are free to confront employees one at a time, without observation, and “convince” the employee to sign a union preference card without a follow up election.

And with that kind of money, the public employee unions control who gets the nod for the Democrat nominations and, thereafter, who gets those vast sums of money, coupled with the legions of paid volunteers, to make sure that they are elected. Here is where you begin to understand the nuances of power politics within the Democrat Party. There isn’t a public declaration by the public employee unions as to who should get the nomination. It is a lot more subtle than that. But in the end, nobody brings as much as the public employee unions to the table and they generally get their way.

And the corollary of that is also true. If there is an incumbent that has not toed the line, money and support is withheld until that incumbent remembers who is really running the show. Just ask Gov. Kulongoski. When Kulongoski tried to do the right thing regarding reform of the burdensome PERS mess, the public employee unions went ballistic. What should have been a cake walk to re-nomination turned into a fight for his political life. And Kulongoski learned his lesson will. Not only did he endorse every union measure, he promised to veto any further attempts to fix PERS. He promised to create more public employee jobs and to make sure they got big raises. He promised to endorse sole source contracts that prohibited government from seeking savings by outsourcing non-critical functions. And then to top it off he made two union officials his two top administration officials. First he made Skip Terhune chief of staff and then Tim Nesbitt deputy chief of staff. (Insiders in the capitol are so used to dealing with Nesbitt for decisions that they now commonly refer to him as Gov. Nesbitt.)

So who is it that will get the unions’ approval for the nominations for these various offices? Well, it’s pretty obvious that Rep. Jeff Merkley has already secured the nod to run against Sen. Gordon Smith for the United States Senate, especially after Alan Bates recognized the handwriting on the wall and withdrew from consideration. It’s a pretty good bet that Sen. Kate Brown will get the nod for the Secretary of State race even though current treasurer Randall Edwards is eyeing the race. But the most interesting one will be whether Republican turned Independent turned Democrat, Ben Westlund, will get the nod for State Treasurer. It is doubtful that the unions trust Westlund anymore than the rest of the politicians and that they will seek and find a better candidate.

The public employee unions are in substantial control of the political process. There is no countervailing force within the Republican party. The system is out of balance and the unions are not shy about pushing the levers of power.