Governmental and Political Affairs
Dave Lang, assistant to the General President, Shannon Meisner, governmental affairs director, and Andy LaVigne, political director, lead the Division of Governmental and Political Affairs. They are augmented by the Deputy Directors of Governmental and Political Affairs Ben Timmins and Tom McEachin, respectively, along with a committed professional staff of lobbying, grassroots and political operatives and a hardworking support and clerical team.
These two departments work collaboratively to provide our union with an effective voice and aggressive advocacy in Congress and with federal regulatory and agencies. Building relationships politically and using these relationships to maximize our advocacy creates a robust and universally acclaimed political, grassroots and field operation that advances the goals and objectives of the IAFF. Together these two departments work hard to improve the lives of professional fire fighters and their families.
Since the last Convention the leadership team was hired by the General President following the retirement of Kevin O’Connor, Barry Kasinitz and David Billy. They served for decades for our union providing dedication and experience, contributing greatly to our previous success. The department recognizes and wishes them and their families a healthy and happy retirement.
The IAFF trademark Black and Gold brand has long enjoyed a reputation of being the most bipartisan union within the House of Labor both in terms of lobbying and political action. We follow this simple rule, “You stand with us and we will stand with you.” This simple but strong message rises above partisan politics. This principle steeped in relationships allows us to operate successfully, cutting through emotionally charged and highly partisan environments. The IAFF continues to operate successfully in any type of political climate where other unions have failed. Our successes at the federal, state and local levels continue to benefit the members we represent.
While public opinion about Congress remains and the belief among voters is that nothing can get done in Washington, the IAFF continues to enjoy success. We gained funding for SAFER and AFG at $350 million for each program. We also obtained a $10 million increase to SAFER during fiscal year 2017. Lawmakers reauthorized both SAFER and AFG for the next six years. Other legislative achievements include authorizing US&R for the first time, passing a fix to end wildland fire borrowing, making improvements to the Public Safety Officer Benefits program, delaying the Cadillac tax for two additional years and defeating a proposal to eliminate the healthcare tax exclusion. As of this writing, the National Firefighter Cancer Registry passed on a voice vote in the House and a unanimous vote from the HELP Committee in the Senate. Governmental Affairs staff works diligently on these issues and continues to seek opportunities to advance the IAFF agenda.
At the 2016 convention, delegates instructed the IAFF to pursue several legislative issues as well as reaffirming previous convention legislative positions through the passage of Resolutions 37, 38, 39 and 41. Resolution 37 called for the elimination or reform of the Social Security WEP and GPO offsets if it did not force firefighters into mandatory Social Security coverage. Staff are currently working to alter the WEP and GPO offsets without triggering mandatory coverage. Resolution 38 affords all fire fighters the right to collective bargaining, reaffirming this as the union’s top legislative priority.
During 2018, staff successfully introduced a bipartisan bill that would afford collective bargaining with binding arbitration to fire fighters. Resolution 39 dealt with supporting the reauthorization of SAFER and AFG Grants, opposing sunsets on the reauthorization and calling for increased funding for both grant programs. At the conclusion of 2017, the IAFF secured reauthorized of both programs. Staff are working diligently to fund these programs at a higher level. Resolution 41 called upon the IAFF to actively lobby for full funding for US&R Teams supporting funding at a minimum of $50 million for 2018. The IAFF continues to push aggressively toward reaching this funding threshold.
Proudly, our FIREPAC continues to grow exponentially. FIREPAC is now a $6 million dollar a cycle federal PAC in terms of “hard/federal” money and $12 million in “soft/non-federal” dollars. This allowed the IAFF to expand our political footprint and build greater success in election at all levels of government. Our growth places us in the top .05percent of all federal PACs. Since the last convention we conducted a detailed analysis of our FIREPAC. We relaunched our program around member investment instead of contributions. Investment in the political efforts of the IAFF add real value and lead to legislative rates of returns. Surprisingly, FIREPAC success is only being funded by investments from less than ten percent of all our members and from less than twelve percent of our local leadership. This leaves tremendous growth potential. Working closely with our district vice presidents along with the education department using PEP instructors, we are beginning to see upward mobility.
The growth and size of our FIREPAC allows us to invest heavily in politics at all levels. To better respond to our affiliates and membership and invest FIREPAC dollars where they are most effective, the IAFF shifted its focus to state, local and referenda campaigns. During the 2016 election cycle, 54 percent of FIREPAC dollars was invested in non-federal races.
Our expanded coffers allowed the IAFF to continue to invest meaningfully in independent expenditures (IEs) in key gubernatorial, Senate and House races and in targeted legislative, mayoral and other local races. Over the past two years, IAFF sponsored IEs including television, radio, cable, direct mail and targeted field activities. During this election cycle, FIREPAC will be funding IEs for both our Democratic and Republican allies.
The IAFF continues to make gains on the federal and local level. This can only be achieved with strong effort from our members and our staff. We succeed because we are bold. There are issues where we might not prevail or which could take many years to achieve. While the challenges may be tough, the protection of our members and providing them the tools to do their jobs are an essential part of what we do. We will always be on the frontline in terms of our advocacy efforts.
When Donald Trump became president in January 2017, it marked the first time Republicans gained full control of government since 2006. As such, Republican members and their constituents placed high expectations to advance conservative policies including tax reform, entitlement reform, shrinking the federal government and regulatory roll backs. President Trump’s inexperience in governing and his unique approach led to miscommunication and missteps on Capitol Hill. The result is a very partisan, chaotic and unpredictable political environment.
The IAFF pursues legislation on two fronts. We have a proactive agenda of legislation we pursue based on our members’ needs. Our collective bargaining bill is a good example of our proactive agenda. We also have a defensive, tactical agenda which is intended to defeat harmful proposals introduced by politicians or other interest groups. Our efforts fighting cuts to federal fire fighter pensions is an example of our defensive agenda. The following sections will outline both our proactive and defensive efforts over the past two years.
Playing Offense and Winning
A top priority for the IAFF was reauthorization of the Assistance to Fire Fighters (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs. The programs were due to be eliminated on January 2, 2018 as specified by a previous Congress. If the programs were not reauthorized, funding to local fire departments would cease to exist. The IAFF waged an aggressive campaign to save the programs. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced legislation in the Senate, and the IAFF mounted a large grassroots lobbying campaign consisting of patch-through calls and direct lobbying to support the programs. Although seemingly a popular cause, passing a bill to reauthorize the programs proved more difficult than expected. Prior to its passage in the Senate, the bill hit a snag when Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) placed a hold on the bill, essentially preventing its consideration. Working closely with McCain and his staff, the IAFF lobbied Lee on the matter, and his hold was lifted, allowing the bill to move forward in the Senate.
House passage was complicated by Republican party rules that prevented the bill from moving unless it contained a sunset clause, a provision intended to end the programs at a specified time in the future. Despite promises to advance the issue from House leadership, the bill stagnated, and the House waited to pass an amended version of the Senate bill until late 2017. In its final act of legislative business for the year, the Senate voted unanimously to reauthorize the AFG and SAFER grant programs and the bill, reauthorizing the programs at $750 million each, was signed into law. However, the law contained a new sunset clause to eliminate the programs in seven years. Still, we are proud to win reauthorization for both programs and will work in the coming years to remove the sunset provision.
The IAFF also won additional funding for the AFG and SAFER grant programs. While the reauthorization amended the statute governing the two programs, it is through annual appropriations legislation that funding is made available. Funding for the programs has remained stagnant at $345 million for each in recent years. For fiscal year 2018, the IAFF worked with Representative Dan Kildee (D-MI) on an amendment adding $20 million to the SAFER grant program. Although the amendment was successful in the House, negotiations on the final bill reduced the funding and transferred a portion of it to the AFG grant program. Lawmakers agreed to increase funds for both programs, which will receive $350 million apiece during fiscal year 2018.
The IAFF spent much of the 115th Congress working to pass legislation to establish a national cancer registry specifically for fire fighters. The Firefighter Cancer Registry Act was introduced by Representatives Chris Collins (R-NY) and Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) in the House and by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in the Senate. As one of the IAFF’s top legislative priorities, we moved swiftly to line up bipartisan support for the bill. In September 2017, the bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously. As of this writing, the bill was approved by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and was pending approval by the full Senate. We expect the bill to be signed into law this year.
In late 2016, the National Urban Search and Rescue Response System Act of 2016 was signed into law. The bill, an IAFF priority for nearly a decade, codifies the National Urban Search and Rescue Response System. The new law also clarifies workers’ compensation and liability protections for US&R team members, protects the reemployment rights of members when they are deployed by a federal agency, specifies the sponsoring agencies may receive federal reimbursement for back-filled positions and makes other administrative improvements to the program.
Progress was also made on rolling back the excise tax on high-cost health plans, another major IAFF priority. Often referred to as the Cadillac tax, this provision affects fire fighters who as often more expensive to insure because of professional risks and negotiate for quality health plans which may be more expensive. Although the IAFF supports legislation to repeal the tax entirely, we also support continued delays of the tax while building support for its full repeal. We were able to include one delay in an unrelated bill to keep the government open. The bill delays the Cadillac tax by two years, until January 1, 2022.
Included in the same bill was language to extend Medicare ground-transportation add-on payments for five years. The Medicare add-on payments provide additional funding to local emergency medical providers for patient transport and are intended to make up a portion of unreimbursed costs to such providers.
President Trump signed into law legislation that we helped craft, S 419, the PSOB Improvements Act. Introduced by Senator Grassley (R-IA) the bill contains a number of provisions meant to improve transparency and accountability for the Public Safety Officers’ Benefit program and expedites the handling of claims filed by survivors.
Finally, the IAFF was able to incorporate some important bills it had been working on for years in an omnibus bill this past March. The omnibus included a fix to the problem of fire borrowing to fund wildfire suppression. For years, the U.S. Forest Service wildfire suppression budget has been underfunded, causing the agency to transfer mitigation accounts to cover the shortfall. The omnibus bill ended this practice of “fire borrowing” by including a guaranteed minimum level of funding for wildfire suppression and a budget mechanism to cover extraordinary suppression costs.
The omnibus bill also included a provision extending Pell Grants to children of fire fighters who die in the line of duty. Based off the Children of Fallen Heroes Scholarship Act, sponsored by Bob Casey (D-PA) in the Senate and Representative Fitzpatrick (R-PA) in the House, this benefit enables children of the fallen to receive nearly $6,000 in grant aid for college, regardless of their income. The IAFF endorsed the bill and worked with its sponsors to secure its passage.
Congress spent much of 2017 working on tax reform, a top priority for House Speaker Paul Ryan. After several weeks of intense work by the Republican Conference and intense lobbying by several organizations, the President signed a tax reform bill into law. The IAFF lobbied intensely on the numerous provisions in the bill which affected fire fighters, many of them harmful to our members. Each new version of the bill included a provision that the IAFF needed to address and remove. Initial language in the bill sought to apply a 10 percent penalty on early withdrawals from deferred compensation plans, – a benefit created through IAFF advocacy. An attempt was made to sharply reduce the “catch-up” retirement benefit for public employees. Workers and their ability to maximize savings in the last few years of their career would have been threatened. In a final attack on retirement benefits, Republicans tried to tax specific types of unrelated business income earned by pension plan investments. The tax would have unfairly targeted plans for making sound, long-term investments while cutting into return rates. The IAFF defeated these measures by highlighting the importance of a strong and secure retirement for fire fighters.
Unfortunately, one provision the IAFF opposed remains in the final bill: a partial elimination of the state and local tax deduction. Initial versions of the bill either eliminated the deduction completely or capped it at $10,000 for property taxes only. By joining with allies in state and local government and conducting targeted grassroots outreach to convince Republican lawmakers from high-tax states to oppose the provision the measure was watered down. The final compromise provision allows an individual to deduct up to $10,000 of any combination of their sales or income and property taxes from what they owe the federal government.
Another Republican priority was repeal of the Affordable Care Act. In the House, Republicans developed their own version of health reform that was intended to replace many parts of the ACA. One provision included language to cap the employer-provided healthcare tax exclusion, a central component of the tax code which shields a worker’s health benefits from taxation. This was not the first time House Republicans attempted to cap the exclusion. In 2009, the IAFF succeeded in preventing a similar idea from becoming law. While the decision to include the tax exclusion provision in the bill was alarming, the timing could not have been more beneficial to the IAFF. When the first draft of the bill became public, the IAFF was gearing up for our 2017 Legislative Conference in Washington, DC. Over 700 fire fighters and emergency medical responders would be in D.C. to talk to their members of Congress just as the proposal to tax workers’ health care was being unveiled. Over a two-day period, IAFF members stormed Capitol Hill wearing “don’t tax my healthcare” buttons on their lapels, advocacy materials in hand and personal healthcare stories to share. They worked tirelessly to beat back any momentum for the tax exclusion. Other interest groups and the public realized how dangerous this proposal was and they also mobilized against it. Congress got the message. Once the final draft of the bill was released the tax exclusion cap was not included.
Federal fire fighters are also facing significant attacks by Congress and the White House. Chief among them is a proposal to slash federal fire fighter pensions. The last two budgets Trump submitted and the fiscal year 2018 House budget resolution contained a proposal to increase federal fire fighter’s pension contributions, eliminate retirees’ COLA, eliminate supplemental pay for early retirees and base pensions on an employee’s five highest years of earnings rather than their highest three. The IAFF waged an all-out campaign and defeated the budget, but the proposal remains popular among certain lawmakers. We remain on-guard for its reemergence. Congress also regularly proposes legislation to eliminate official (union) time for federal fire fighters, a measure the IAFF opposes.
Another significant challenge for federal fire fighters over the past two years was the government shutdown. In January of 2018, Congress allowed the government to shut down for three days while they negotiated a continuing resolution to keep the government funded. Such talks were complicated by negotiations over DACA, border security and a failure to find common ground. A series of political missteps by the White House also contributed to the shutdown. During this time, most federal fire fighters reported to work without pay. Eventually, legislation ending the shutdown restored pay to our members, but the impact of working without pay and the damage to morale was already done.
In addition to the challenges facing the IAFF on Capitol Hill, fire fighters also face regulatory hurdles. In one of his first acts as president, Donald Trump ordered a freeze on all pending regulations until his administration had a chance to review them. The IAFF was working on numerous regulations with the Obama Administration, and this action delayed two final rules which are particularly important to the IAFF. We expect the content of these rules to change, perhaps significantly.
First, this action delayed the effective date of amendments to the Risk Management Program at the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA). The amendments that the IAFF helped to write, would ensure local first responders were informed of regulated substances at industrial facilities, their quantities and risks, and require facility coordination and exercises with first responders. These amendments were prompted by the explosion and tragic loss of life that occurred during the 2013 West Texas fertilizer plant explosion. Now in limbo, we expect the administration to roll back many of the proposed improvements.
Second, this action delayed release of the updated PSOB regulations which incorporate new rules for awarding WTC illness claims and expanding disability benefits among other provisions. Originally written with our input during the Obama Administration, the Trump Administration wanted to revisit some of the provisions. They are currently renegotiating these regulations with the Department of Justice, and we expect an updated file this summer.
The IAFF continues to pursue federal legislation to benefit its members and their health, financial well-being, job security and their families while fighting off attacks on their benefits. We also continue to pursue long-time IAFF priorities, notably the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act.
The IAFF has fought for years to provide collective bargaining rights to all fire fighters. Legislation supporting our position, the Public Safety Employer Employee Cooperation Act, nearly became law in 2011. However, the bill was derailed at the last minute by partisan politics unrelated to the underlying policy. In subsequent years, owing to political circumstances, the fight to pass the bill was put on hold, but the IAFF Executive Board decided the time was right to reintroduce the bill and educate a new slate of lawmakers about its importance.
We reintroduced the bill (HR 4846) in 2018 sponsored by Representatives Dan Kildee (D-MI) and John Duncan (R-TN) as. The bill largely mirrors the previous versions of the Cooperation Act with the primary difference requiring binding arbitration as the method for dispute resolution. Although there is no chance the bill will move in the current Congress, we intend to use this year to build support and educate newly elected legislators. As of this writing, plans to introduce sister legislation in the Senate with Senator Baldwin (D-WI) are underway.
Legislation to address the opioid crisis is also emerging. Although Congress has provided significant funding to address the matter, the majority of funding was directed towards mental health, traditional healthcare partners, law enforcement and prevention. A small portion of resources was made available to assist emergency medical responders with medical countermeasures. We are working with our allies in Congress to expand these resources to help responders better protect themselves during a response. These efforts are ongoing.
The IAFF is also working with Congress to address the mental health challenges of the fire service. We are engaging legislators to educate about mental health needs, including post-traumatic stress and co-occurring addiction. There is growing interest on Capitol Hill about the IAFF Center of Excellence and peer training program along with a desire to address the issue and provide more support. We anticipate working on mental health legislation for the fire service in the coming months.
Political Affairs and FIREPAC
As fire fighters and emergency medical personnel, politics is not our chosen field. However, as members of this union we learned that effective engagement in the political arena is an essential part of our profession. Every decision that touches upon our members’ careers, safety and retirement security is made by an elected official or someone appointed by an elected official. We work diligently to build a powerful political presence at every level of the government from fire boards and town councils to state legislatures and Congress, not because the trappings of power matter to us but so we can secure better outcomes for our members by being involved. In the political world influence comes from a combination of information, connections and resources. Our political team works to assemble those key elements for our members.
The biggest resources in political campaigns are time, money, and people, and FIREPAC is the way we build our advocacy resources. Since 2000, FIREPAC has grown from a minor player to a $6 million dollar-per-cycle powerhouse. Our PAC allow us to make direct contributions to elected officials who support our initiatives in Congress, to support candidates who share our values, and when needed, support independent expenditure efforts in the races that matter the most for our members’ legislative priorities.
The backbone of FIREPAC’s fundraising success results from our check-off (payroll deduction) program. During the 2016 election cycle, 78 percent of FIREPAC revenue came from members in the 264 locals that have an active check-off program. Not surprisingly, the locals that have set up check-off programs are the ones who are the most politically active and successful. On average, about 25 percent of members in a local with a check-off program contribute to FIREPAC compared to five percent of members in a local that do not have one. IAFF encourages all locals to consider establishing a Check-Off program.
Following the 2016 election, the political department to begin exploring new ways to build the PAC and to begin testing and implementation throughout 2017 and 2018. We have launched two new initiatives, both focused on direct, on-the-ground engagement with members and affiliate leaders in the PAC arena. First, we collaborated with DVP Sandy McGhee and Texas State President John Riddle to develop the Texas Triple Play, a combined pitch to members for their local, state, and federal PAC complete with an E-18 produced video and specialized printed materials.
Second, our political team collaborated with our IT department to build a mobile donation platform that can be used on tablets equipped with credit card readers. The tablets have been deployed with staff, DFSRs and affiliate leaders at ALTS and several District PEP seminars. Our team can collect donations on-the-spot at our training sessions. Both these programs are still in the pilot phase and may eventually merge with our SMART app system. At this point they are providing new ways for members to join in the collective strength of FIREPAC while giving our staff and leaders the chance to hone our pitch to members in face-to-face settings.
FIREPAC continues to be a top player in the campaign world thanks to support from our members. Our relative strength may come as a surprise to some members. Among PAC affiliates with labor unions, we ranked ninth in terms of donations out of the 171 Labor PACs despite being smaller than some organizations that ranked behind us. Among all 3,643 registered PACs, including SuperPACs, we ranked 46th, placing us in the top .05 percent. We have punched above our weight for years now and are strongly positioned to continue our outsized influence in the PAC world.
Bipartisanship and Stewardship
FIREPAC is part of our voice in the political process and we maintain a level of bipartisanship considered rare in a heavily partisan atmosphere. Our contributions are not about one party’s success over another but about electing and supporting leaders who will stand with IAFF Members, regardless of their party affiliation. We write checks to Nancy Pelosi and to Paul Ryan in the House and to Chuck Schumer and John McCain in the Senate. We will work with whoever we need to get the job done for our members. When a legislator crosses this union, Democrat or Republican, we will support their opponent no matter what the chattering classes and party hardliners say about it. And when someone says. “FIREPAC only backs liberal Democrats,” it is important to correct the record. We do not care at all about liberal or conservative labels. All that matters is that they stand up for our rights and our members.
We ensure that the FIREPAC dollars that are generously donated by our members are spent in the most effective way. Our staff keeps a close watch on races in the Senate, House and at the state levels. They analyze campaigns to make sure we are not throwing good money after bad. Campaigns learn quickly that financial support from the IAFF is only earned with hard work and up-front communications with our affiliates and leaders. We will walk away if we’re not convinced that our resources are being used wisely. We’re also not afraid to offer hard advice to the campaigns we support because we believe that friends can be frank with each other. We should never hesitate to use our influence to pressure a campaign to pay attention to the issues our members care about.
Electing Our Own
One of the biggest reasons we built our PAC is to support IAFF members who launch their own campaigns. The best chance we have for our issues to receive a fair hearing is to elect someone who has served on this job. I am amazed at the new level of success we see from firefighters seeking elected office. We have over 400 members holding office in almost every level of government from water boards and school boards to fire districts and city councils, county commissioners, state legislatures, and even in Congress (Representative Mike Bost (R-IL)). Since Fall 2016, the PAC supported more than 80 IAFF member-candidates in 24 states, and the list grows every week.
We have a front row seat to what may be the next big step for the IAFF in terms of members holding office this year as two campaigns are receiving national attention. In Phoenix, Brother Daniel Valenzuela of Local 493, already a city councilman with a track record of leadership in the city, is running for mayor. He has put together a strong campaign with deep support from across the city.
In Wisconsin Mahlon Mitchell, the president of Madison Local 311 and the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, is engaged in a fight for the future of his state. He is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor against Scott Walker. This union is standing strong with Danny and Mahlon, not just because they are fire fighters and not just because of the good they can do in Phoenix and in Wisconsin but because we can put Fire fighter issues into the national conversation in a way we have never been able to before. The IAFF is immensely proud of these two brothers and will be working hard to support them.
The 2016 Election cycle will go down in history as one of the most consequential and most unpredictable elections in our nation’s history. This union took a tough position in Summer 2016 to remain neutral in the chaotic presidential election. Instead, IAFF focused our efforts on the Senate, gubernatorial, and legislative elections in addition to key local races where our affiliates called for help. That decision was validated on election night when Donald Trump pulled off what political observers declared impossible and defeated Hillary Clinton. While other groups that supported Clinton were in shock for days and weeks afterward, this union went to work finding common ground as we always do with members of the incoming administration.
The presidential election influenced key races on the entire ballot, leading to mixed results for the IAFF.
In the Senate, Democrats appeared poised to make significant gains in the chamber with a strong shot at winning a majority. Key races in the cycle included the open seats in Indiana and Nevada, challenges to Sen. Johnson (WI), Sen. Portman (OH), Sen. Toomey (PA), Sen. Rubio (FL), Sen. Blunt (MO), Sen. Kirk (IL) and Sen. Ayotte (NH).
The IAFF backed the challengers in Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois and New Hampshire, took a neutral stance in Florida and Pennsylvania and supported Sen. Blunt. In Illinois, Representative Tammy Duckworth won her challenge with IAFF support, as did Governor Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, but the others fell short. The IAFF also stood with Republican incumbents like Lisa Murkowski (AK), John McCain (AZ) while remaining neutral in the Nevada race where both parties nominated allies of ours. While other cycles have seen larger lists of competitive races, our investment in the Senate campaigns was significant.
In the House, the volatility at the top of the ballot led to a limited gain by Democrats. Only six GOP incumbents lost to Democratic challengers. A relatively small number of open seats switched parties. IAFF support was split between the parties. We backed successful challenges by Democrats such as Brad Schneider of Illinois and Charlie Crist of Florida while standing with vulnerable Republican incumbents in other areas such as Lee Zeldin and John Katko in New York and Ryan Costello in Pennsylvania. Some of our allies lost while others won, but the changes were relatively minimal compared to the Democratic waves in 2006 and 2008, and the GOP gains in 2010 and 2014. Our relationships with both GOP and Democratic leadership remained solid because of our principled approach to supporting our friends in Congressional races.
Governor’s Races and State Legislatures
At the state level, only 12 of 50 states held elections, but there were several highly competitive races. In Missouri, a knock-down fight for the seat held by Democrat Jay Nixon came down to Attorney General Chris Koster, a labor ally, and newcomer Eric Greitens. We supported Koster along with allies in the labor movement, but unfortunately, we came up short. After the election, we worked quickly to build a relationship with Greitens which began to bear fruit in the form of chance at real presumptive disability legislation in Missouri. However, Greitens’ fall from grace has delayed those gains. In Montana, we spent heavily to back the reelection effort of Governor Steve Bullock, and we were rewarded with a victory, potentially opening a window for positive gains for Montana firefighters.
We also backed successful campaigns by incumbents Jay Inslee (WA) and Kate Brown (OR), both of whom are strong allies of our members. In Indiana, a challenge by John Gregg to Mike Pence, who was deeply unpopular in his home state, was derailed when Pence was nominated to serve as vice president. In Vermont and New Hampshire, Republicans took over open seats held by Democrats while in West Virginia Jim Justice was elected as a Democrat, but he switched parties in 2017.
North Carolina presented another bright spot. Backed by the PFFNC, Attorney General Roy Cooper defeated incumbent Pat McCrory in one of the closest elections in the country.
At the state legislative level, the IAFF backed our state associations’ plays in key legislative races in over a dozen states. We invested in caucus programs and IAFF-affiliate campaign efforts across the country. Unfortunately, the top-ticket meltdown by Clinton led to limited gains in Maine, Colorado, New Hampshire, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington and Arizona. Democratic majorities supported by IAFF and affiliates in Minnesota and Iowa’s state senates were overturned.
The loss in Iowa was particularly disappointing as the IAFF invested heavily to preserve the chamber as a backstop against an anti-labor governor. Some good news did arrive that night. In Alaska, labor allies from both parties formed a coalition government. In Nevada the PFFN’s Democratic allies in the House and Senate took control of their chambers.
Despite mixed results in the most competitive elections, this union’s careful spending insulated us from the worst of the night. Among the 289 races at the House, Senate, and Governor’s level where we provided financial support, the IAFF candidate was victorious in 251 of them, an 86.8 winning percentage.
Local Race Highlights
Down the ballot, the IAFF saw real success on election night in 2016. Key local elections in several states provided tremendous wins for IAFF locals on some of the most important fights imaginable for our members. In Westminster, Colorado, the IAFF and CPFF worked hand-in-hand with Local 2889 to pass a long-sought change granting the local collective bargaining rights. Local 367 in Texarkana, TX passed a similar measure while Local 1605 in Hagerstown, MD won full binding arbitration rights from their constituents.
In Shreveport, LA, Local 514 passed a permanent renewal of a .25 percent public safety sales tax, guaranteeing a stable revenue stream for police and fire. In Virginia, our affiliates not only helped defeat a constitutional amendment to permanently enshrine right-to-work but passed a local option tax exemption for surviving spouses of law enforcement, fire fighters, search and rescue and EMS personnel killed in the line of duty. Similar successes happened throughout the country, proving that even in the most chaotic of political circumstances, our locals can run strong campaigns.
Our International continued to grow our investment and support for these critical local elections in 2016. The staff spent significant time providing valuable advice to affiliates on how to build successful campaigns and training them on the vital tasks of these campaigns, we continue to look for ways to add capacity to this growing area of our political practice.
In Washington State, the IAFF and WSCFF invested in the special election campaign of Manka Dhingra for state senate. Dhingra’s victory placed Democrats in control of the chamber. Since that election, PTSD presumption and a ban on a set of toxic flammables have been passed and signed into law. In New Jersey, the PFANJ and IAFF backed Phil Murphy for Governor. Murphy won in a landslide over Chris Christie’s Lt. Governor, Kim Guadagno, ending the anti-labor, anti-firefighter reign in that state.
In Virginia, both the state and International invested heavily in the campaign effort behind Lt. Governor Ralph Northam and backed the House Democrats’ play to gain seats. We engaged in heavy member-to-member campaign efforts on behalf of Northam’s gubernatorial campaign with President Robby Bragg building a statewide team to deliver messages and flyers to our members across the Commonwealth. Our efforts and investment were rewarded: Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring, and Lt. Governor candidate Justin Fairfax all won. Our house allies gained more seats than Democrats had in any cycle in a century, coming within one single vote of controlling the chamber.
In New York the NYSPFFA, working with Locals 94 and 854, led an extensive effort with IAFF support to defeat the Constitutional Convention measure, winning a crushing four to one victory over their opponents. Local 48 in Cincinnati practically ran their mayor’s successful reelection effort and won a majority slate on the city council to back him up. Atlanta Local 134 also engaged in their mayor’s race with the IAFF providing support in the form of both staff assistance and an IE campaign on behalf of their candidate, Mary Norwood. Norwood unfortunately came up just 800 votes short, but President Gerdis and his leadership team laid down a marker that Atlanta Fire Fighters are now a political player to be reckoned with.
Nineteen of 26 IAFF member candidates were successful as well.
At the local level, wins were seen in locals across the U.S., from South Milwaukee L1633’s public safety referendum to Thornton, CO L2376’s ballot win to expand their bargaining unit. Support from the IAFF helped numerous locals achieve success in their hometown races.
The IAFF took a skeptical view of some special election efforts undertaken in 2017 by Democrats. Some candidates seemed half-cooked, and they were spending tremendous resources on longshot districts and coming up short. However, in early 2018, our affiliates in Pennsylvania’s 18th District along with District VP Pantelis and IAFF leaders across western PA (including Local 1’s Darrin Kelly, head of the Alleghany County CLC), backed Democrat Conor Lamb for the open seat. The IAFF contributed to Lamb’s campaign and sent mailers to our members in the district. Our members volunteered for the massive, united labor grassroots effort in the election. Lamb won less than 1,000 votes. Lamb’s win was impossible without union support, including ours. Unlike many candidates in recent years, Lamb embraced unions and our members openly.
The 2018 season is shaping up to be an extremely interesting year for campaigns across the country. There continues to be real volatility in the political world, but some trends have emerged that may be deep enough to carry through election day. In many ways 2018 presents a bigger challenge for the IAFF than 2016 did. We have as many as 10 incumbent allies in the U.S. Senate facing difficult re-election challenges and a House of Representatives battlefield that looks larger than anything we have seen in the past decade. In addition, there are 36 governor’s races on the ballot. As we approach this huge task, we are guided by the bedrock principle that we will back those who back us, regardless of party.
The U.S. Senate races of 2018 start with an extreme imbalance as 26 of the 35 seats on the November ballot are currently held by Democrats who have a tremendous amount of territory to defend. In addition, 13 of those seats are in states where Donald Trump either won or came within a few points of winning. Meanwhile the GOP only has two seats up for reelection? from states where Clinton was even close to victory.
Of these vulnerable Democrats, several of them are particularly strong allies of the IAFF including Claire McCaskill (MO), Jon Tester (MT), Tammy Baldwin (WI), Joe Manchin (WV), Joe Donnelly (IN), Bob Casey (PA), and Sherrod Brown (Ohio). The IAFF will be going to the mat to defend these senators with independent expenditure spending. We will work with state affiliates to run aggressive member-to-member education campaigns to ensure that fire fighters know what these stalwarts have done for them in the Senate.
We will also be standing with Nevada Senator Dean Heller, a Republican, despite attempts by Democrats to unseat him. We even have a good relationship with Heller’s challenger, Representative. Jacky Rosen, but we are standing firm with our friends. Heller has been an ally on multiple issues, and the IAFF will campaign on his behalf. We are supporting Representative Kyrsten Sinema’s bid for the open seat vacated by Jeff Flake in Arizona and will back former Governor Phil Bredesen for the Tennessee seat left open by Bob Corker’s retirement.
While Democrats are still in a defensive posture in the U.S. Senate, signs continue to emerge that a major shift is on the horizon in the House. Polling has shown a generic ballot advantage of five to 10 points for Democrats with occasional bumps into the double digits over the last 18 months. While gerrymandered seats in states like Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin present some insulation for the Republican party, a cycle with Democrats at +8 percentage number would almost certainly result in a chamber flip.
In addition to the generic ballot woes, Republicans also have a large and growing number of seats now open because of retirements. Unfortunately for the IAFF, we are losing some of our best GOP allies to these early exits such as Frank LoBiondo in New Jersey, Charlie Dent in Pennsylvania and Dave Reichert in Washington. These pro-labor, pro-fire fighter Republicans were a key element of our success on the Hill, and their presence will be missed. Several other key GOP allies face difficult re-election fights, including Carlos Curbelo in FL-26, Brian Fitzpatrick in PA-1, Jeff Denham in CA-10 and IAFF member Mike Bost in IL-13. We will stand strong with these allies regardless of partisan pressure.
In other areas, open seats present opportunities to support and elect pro-firefighter, pro-union candidates. The retirements by adversarial incumbents like Darrell Issa give us a real chance at electing allies where there may not have been in the past. In addition, problematic incumbents like Rod Blum in Iowa, Dana Rohrabacher in California and several others face strong challenges. We will continue to assess House incumbents on a rolling basis for support and screen potential candidates vigorously. The IAFF will also play heavily in the IE efforts around the key races, whether backing our GOP allies via the Main Street Coalition or Democrats through the House Majority PAC.
The 36 races on the ballot this year present real opportunities to either reverse negative trends in states or reinforce positive ones. The gubernatorial landscape closely resembles the Senate picture. Among governors, the GOP controls 26 of the seats up this term, and several crucial seats are open.
In New Mexico, the IAFF is backing Democrat Michelle Lujan-Grisham, a longtime friend of our fire fighters in the state, to replace outgoing Republican Susanna Martinez. In Illinois, President Devaney and the AFFI backed Democrat JB Pritzker early in his race to take out troublesome incumbent Bruce Rauner. Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, Mahlon Mitchell in Wisconsin and Nate Boulton in Iowa are all up-and-coming talents who were endorsed by our state bodies. They received the support of IAFF resources in their battles to remove or replace anti-labor Republican governors elected from the disastrous 2010 class.
In Pennsylvania, Democratic candidate Tom Wolf again earned the endorsement of the PPFFA and the financial backing of FIREPAC in his campaign. Governor Kate Brown of Oregon has earned the same. California Professional Firefighters are on board with Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom in the race to replace term-limited Governor Jerry Brown. In Minnesota and Colorado our state bodies have backed Congressional allies to fill open seats.
In Massachusetts and Maryland, two of the bluest states in the country, our members are standing with Republican governors. Charlie Baker in Massachusetts and Larry Hogan in Maryland have been allies of our members, and we are standing behind them against the Democratic tides. In Idaho, FIREPAC invested with the PFFI to back GOP Lt. Governor Brad Little in the May primary to replace Governor Butch Otter against anti-union hardliner Raul Labrador.
During the last four election cycles, the IAFF has supported candidates in various state legislatures even more, and 2018 will be no different. Since 2016, Democrats have made stunning gains in state legislative special elections. More than 40 seats flipped since the 2016 election, including deep red districts in Oklahoma, northern Michigan and Georgia. The energy of the party’s grassroots has produced a heavy crop of candidates. Our state affiliates are taking stock of what Democratic gains could mean for them.
The IAFF’s investment in the Washington State special election was a preview of this cycle. We will invest when the time is right, and the result can lead to positive outcomes for our members. In Nevada, Republicans attempted to run recalls against three Democratic state senators, trying to short-circuit the normal election cycle and undercut the majority. At the request of the PFFNV we invested in a union-run program to fight the recalls. In March the GOP signatures were thrown out, thereby protecting a pro-fire fighter majority in the Senate.
While the specific races are still coming into focus, we expect to see battles for state control in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida and Maine. In addition, more targeted gains may be obtained in Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Missouri, Georgia, Florida and Texas. As has been our policy, we wait for our state leadership to get involved and will work to supplement their campaign activity rather than strike out on our own.
Down the ballot, we have already been engaged with more than a dozen locals across the country on a wide variety of municipal and special district elections. We are working with Alexandria, VA Local 2141 to support their efforts in a mayoral and council election and to increase their pay up to regional scale. We are providing lists and targets for Hamilton County, Indiana Local 4416 for their very active county and city election program. We’re advising Ocean City and Frederick, Maryland on their path towards gaining binding arbitration. In Colorado Springs we were active on a future measure to change that city’s charter to provide for collective bargaining. We expect at least 12 to 20 more locals to be on our service list by the time convention ends. We believe that when locals are ready to invest the time, money and effort necessary to win a race, then our tools and guidance can help them carry the day. We will continue to provide direct service to affiliates like these.
- Michael Mullane Political Training Academy
Part of the overall mission of the political department is not just airdrop support into locals and state affiliates, but to train them how to use the resources we provide so they can build their own capacity. The backbone of this mission element is the A. Michael Mullane Political Training Academy.
Started in the late 1990s, this program has grown and flourished since its founding. During the last two years, we have conducted a shakedown of the program, assessing our educational goals, methods and returns. We even conducted a phone survey of past attendees, reaching out to hundreds of the more than 1,000 graduates to hear their stories and advice. We updated multiple program elements in response and added more small-group training so that members can get the instructor attention they need while learning. Our classes continue to be a mix of members seeking office, state and local association leaders looking to build their skills and locals sending members to prepare for key ballot measures. Our class and group work contains elements that are useful to all these categories and specific sessions designed for each group.
On-the-Ground in 2018
In 2018, we will undertake a deliberate effort to engage (or re-engage) with PTA graduates across the country in our election efforts. Too many of our graduates were simply falling off our radar on their return home, and we intend to fix that. We’re going to put these trained leaders to work on political programs who are focused on building IAFF capacity in the states to better support and elect our recommended candidates.
The PTA graduates will not simply be creating campaigns out of whole cloth. Since Summer 2017, our staff has reached out to state leaders and held detailed conversations. Discussion items include the political landscape in their states, the methods that IAFF uses to deliver political messages and the long-term legislative goals that state has in mind. When completed, these surveys provide a starting point for electoral plans which we will be crafting together with state associations this summer. States with multiple key races will be a higher priority for us, especially those states with both Senate and governor’s races on our radar. However, we will work with any state that seeks our advice on how to maximize their resources and get more members involved in politics.