I don’t think I’ve seen a Republican – or just about any candidate of any stripe – work as hard for an AFL-CIO endorsement than Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka did.
She assiduously courted the unions who represent workers in her office, worked to help the Teamsters pass a bill important to the union that jabbed at a non-union cemetery owner, built strong relationships with some labor union leaders and even endorsed the union-backed pension reform bill.
In other words, she went above and beyond her Democratic rival Sheila Simon on pretty much all counts. The Simon family has long enjoyed union support. Except for his successful U.S. Senate primary bid in 1984, union leaders and members almost always backed her father Paul.
And the daughter would’ve likely had organized labor’s backing this year if she’d run for the open state treasurer slot instead of for comptroller against Topinka. So it was little surprise when Topinka received the Illinois AFL-CIO endorsement this month
It’s no secret that Illinois voters have tended to lean Democratic for quite a number of years, so successful Republican candidates have to prove they are not completely hostile to the prevailing state winds.
Voters know Topinka well, and many probably still kick themselves for voting for Rod Blagojevich instead of her.
And even though Topinka is well-known to voters, Simon’s family name still carries quite a bit of cachet, so Topinka has not rested on her laurels. Instead, she’s worked hard to outflank Simon, and not just with the unions.
Topinka has long been aggressively outspoken on gay rights issues, and she upped her credibility on the issue with the gay marriage proposal, working the bill hard and then receiving a huge roar of applause when, during the gay marriage signing ceremony, she offered to serve as “flower girl” for any couple who is married under the new law.
The state Federation of Labor will make fall election endorsements this summer, so I suppose it’s possible that they could go in a different direction. But Simon probably didn’t help her case any when she blasted the Topinka endorsement by “insiders” acting “behind closed doors.”
Even Gov. Pat Quinn told the Chicago Sun-Times’ Michael Sneed this month that he “can’t praise State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka enough” for her work on animal welfare issues. Quinn is reportedly not happy with his lieutenant governor for the way she abruptly jumped off the ticket when Lisa Madigan loomed large as a potential challenger, and for when Simon refused to endorse him last summer when it looked like he faced a difficult primary against Bill Daley.
Despite everything, Illinois is Illinois, so this campaign isn’t a slam dunk for the incumbent comptroller by any means. And that’s a big reason why Topinka worked so hard to win the state Fed’s endorsement this month.
Very smart politics.
• Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.