If you listen to the extremists on either side, you would think that SEIU and the Republican Party have no common interests and in fact are mortally opposed to each other. Well, I'm here to say that not only do Republican SEIU members play a vital role in our union, but we must expand our role if we're truly going to unite and fight for the 99%.
I've been an SEIU member for 15 years as a Registered Nurse at a veteran's home in Wisconsin. Veterans care is very close to my heart, as I am a veteran myself, having served in the Air Force in the 70's and 80's. One of the first ways I got involved in our union was by going to the state legislature and pushing for better staffing and limits on nurse mandatory overtime, issues that are important to both nurses and our veteran patients.
For the last year and a half, I have been at the forefront of the effort to recall anti-worker state legislators and perhaps the most anti-worker politician in the whole country, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. It does not matter to me that Scott Walker and some of these legislators are Republicans. For me, the core issue is holding politicians in both parties accountable to the issues that matter to working people.
The Republican Party has not always been dominated by anti-worker extremists. We once were the party of "Honest Abe" Lincoln, who helped end slavery, Teddy Roosevelt who created our national parks, and "Fighting Bob" La Follette, who tried to get the influence of big money out of politics. As the Republican Party has become more and more influenced by corporate money and interests, unions have tended to disengage and put all of our resources into the Democratic Party. In my opinion, this is the wrong way to go. If we ignore the Republican Party and our Republican sisters and brothers in SEIU, then we surrender a huge area of the political landscape to big corporations, the Koch Brothers and the 1%.
In states like mine, fully one third of our membership is Republican. We need to engage our Republican members, hear their concerns, find common ground, and make sure they are fully educated and involved. We cannot be divided by race, gender or other differences, we must focus on the shared values that unite us. All of us, no matter what party affiliation, want security, prosperity, dignity, opportunity and a strong union voice for working people.
We must also seek out and promote pro-worker Republican candidates who are responsive to their working family constituents. Many state legislatures are now under the control of large Republican majorities. We need to let worker-friendly GOP leaders know that they do not need to cave into the extreme wing of the party. They need to know there is an alternative, and they can find support from our union if they pay attention to the issues that are important to workers.
We have already had some important successes across the country. In New Hampshire, there are four GOP state representatives who are members of SEIU Local 1984, and they have been able to able to defeat "Right to Work for Less" legislation and other attacks on collective bargaining rights. In Wyoming, SEIU Local 1990 has six current or retiree members (four Republicans and two Democrats) serving in the state legislature. All joined in the successful effort to move the overwhelming Republican majority to protect the pensions and union rights of Wyoming workers. Our Florida members have designated special Republican lobbying days, and beat back attempts to outlaw payroll deduction and erode members' political and collective bargaining rights. SEANC Local 2008 in North Carolina has two Republican members who as State Representatives actually stood up to the Democratic Governor to stop privatization of Prison Health Care, a victory for our members who deliver quality services at a good value for taxpayers. And in California, we have set up a political action fund to support moderate, pro-worker Republican candidates who will run against extremists in the state primaries and work pragmatically to solve the state's budget crisis.
These are just some of the examples of a new approach we are successfully trying throughout our union to promote specific issues and individual candidates - not political parties - and then hold leaders of both parties accountable to working people. Often times during my political work with my union, I think of my dad and my grandfather, who were both Republicans and proud union members. During their lives, if you worked hard, you had something to show for it. That is a core American value, and it is under attack by politicians in both parties. All SEIU members - Republican, Democrat and Independent - need to unite around our shared values so that we can fight for the 99% and make sure hard work is once again rewarded in our country.