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Teamsters Threaten House Democrats

June 17, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Teamsters threatened to abandon House Democrats who voted for the China trade bill, and in many cases they did. But often, as with Rep. Dennis Moore of Kansas, local Teamsters are finding the national union’s edicts hard to follow.

Bobby Davidson, president of Teamsters Local 955 in Kansas City, Kan., said his local’s 4,000 members are indebted to Moore, a freshman Democrat who faces a difficult re-election campaign, for helping settle a dispute with Associated Wholesale Grocers Inc.

``It’s not very often that a congressman calls me,″ Davidson said. ``He said, `What can I do to help?′ As far as I’m concerned, he does support working families. When a man steps forward like that, it’s hard for me to turn my back on him.″

The trade bill, which passed the House but still faces a Senate vote, has been the most heavily lobbied legislation of the congressional session. It would grant permanent normal trade relations to China, which supporters say would open markets to U.S. products. Detractors, led by organized labor, insist it would cost American jobs.

Democrats count on Teamster help to deliver close races like Moore’s. After the vote on the China bill, the union made good its threats and dumped Moore and other traditionally pro-labor Democrats, among them Reps. Lois Capps of California and Tom Sawyer of Ohio.

``We brought Dennis Moore to the promised land. We brought a lot of people to the promised land, and they left us,″ Teamsters national political director Chuck Harple said.

As with Moore, however, many local Teamsters are staying with Capps and Sawyer because of previous positions. Republicans hope to exploit the division between national leaders and the rank and file.

``We hope this crevice turns into a canyon and splits their members right down the middle,″ said Jim Wilkinson, spokesman for House Republicans’ political arm.

``We didn’t think the unions were serious until they did what they’ve done to Moore. This is the first time they’ve backed away from a candidate they really need, if they’re serious about winning the House.″

Victor Kamber, a Democratic political consultant who often works with labor unions, called the Teamsters’ move ``a signal to Moore for the future, (and) it’s a signal to other Democrats.″

Mindful that his conservative district has almost 27,000 union members and that he needs Republican help to win, Moore had to walk a tightrope on the China trade vote.

``I honestly tried to do what I thought was right, and I’m confident I did,″ Moore said.

Moore, a former prosecutor, was the first Democrat to win the seat in 36 years, with 52 percent of the vote.

Unions, a key component of his base, contributed almost 23 percent of his $1 million in campaign money. Just as important, they provided manpower to make calls, write and letters and get voters to the polls.

The national Teamsters’ Harple said Moore can kiss all that goodbye. ``No get-out-the-vote, no resources,″ Harple said. ``He’s gone from the first tier to, `We hope he wins, good luck.‴

Moore continues to reach out to other labor organizations, and the AFL-CIO and some other unions have promised support.

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On the Net: http://www.teamsters.com/

http://www.house.gov/moore

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