- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

Teamsters President James P. Hoffa says that his 1.4-million-member union is giving more financial support to Republican candidates this year. "Don't take us for granted," he says.

Mr. Hoffa, whose union is already supporting several Republican gubernatorial candidates, also hinted that the Teamsters might endorse Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's bid for re-election to a second term. He called Mr. Bush's likely Democratic opponent, former Attorney General Janet Reno, "the worst attorney general this country has ever had."

"There isn't really anybody attractive running against him. I thought she was one of the poorest attorneys general ever to serve in that position. She was totally unqualified for the job," he said.

As for the Teamsters endorsing Mr. Bush, "It's a possibility," he said. "We have not made a decision yet. We're certainly listening to what he's talking about." Top union officials have been meeting with the governor, he added.

In an interview with The Washington Times at Teamsters headquarters on Capitol Hill, Mr. Hoffa spoke warmly of President Bush's political relationship with the union and revealed that Mr. Bush has invited all of the union's state legislative and political coordinators to meet with him in the White House on June 24. "This has never happened before," a union official said.

"We have more access to this White House than we did to the Clinton White House," Mr. Hoffa said.

The Teamsters chief, who has at times been at political odds with the AFL-CIO, has been leading a more bipartisan approach toward the Republicans. He supported Mr. Bush's proposal to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and is a frequent visitor to the White House, where he has had numerous meetings with the president and his senior advisers about a broad range of labor matters and other issues.

In return, Mr. Hoffa said his union's financial support for Republican candidates this year has gone from about 7 percent to 20 percent.

"Perhaps about 80 percent of our money goes to Democrats, but we're not afraid to reach out across the aisle. It's not a matter of Republican and Democrat. It's about people who are pro-labor or do things that help the Teamsters," he said.

The Teamsters have endorsed Republican Govs. Bob Taft of Ohio and George E. Pataki of New York and have financially supported Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who succeeded President Bush as governor. Mr. Hoffa also said for the first time that the Teamsters will support Sen. Frank H. Murkowski of Alaska if, as expected, he is the Republican gubernatorial nominee.

Mr. Hoffa, whose break with organized labor's near-total support for the Democrats has persuaded other union leaders to follow his example, said, "My message for Democrats and Republicans is 'don't take us for granted.' "

But that message was aimed more at the Democrats whose financial and political support has been a major source of the union's political power than to Republicans who have not received much in the way of support from the Teamsters until now.

He also had a message for the AFL-CIO, which represents 13 million workers in 66 unions: Join me in reaching out to Republicans on issues on which we can agree.

The AFL-CIO says "they are working toward that ideal, and we'll see what they do, but we hope that they will work toward the idea of coalition building," Mr. Hoffa said of the giant labor federation's leadership.

Mr. Hoffa makes no secret of the fact that the most important favor he wants from the Bush administration is an end the consent decree under which the Justice Department has maintained annual oversight of his union.

"We've been in negotiations with the government, and let's see where it goes. This union has been cleaned up. It does not need government oversight," he said.

But he said that in all of his meetings with Mr. Bush, "I've never really sat down and said this to him. The opportunity never presented itself." Still, he adds hesitantly, "I know that he feels he has said some very flattering things about the way we are running our union."

Miss Reno, who was attorney general under President Clinton, opposed ending oversight over the Teamsters.

White House officials say they have not reached a decision about ending federal oversight, but one senior official said, "We're studying this very carefully."

As for who the Teamsters will endorse for president in 2004, "It's too early to say what the Teamsters will do in the next election," Mr. Hoffa said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide