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SEIU Brings Christmas to Arkansas’ Halter

bhalterQuepos A week before Christmas there was a long AP piece by Andrew DeMillo that indicated that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) was going to take the lead in seeking to retire the campaign debt of over $400,000 which Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter owed himself from his election several years ago.  All of this caught my eye, having run an SEIU local for almost 25 years with a small 500 odd SEIU membership in the state, and usually having not succeeded in getting them to hardly even do the bare minimum for most Arkansas pols, including Bill Clinton [don't ask me about Mike Ross or SEIU might ask me to see if those contributions could be refunded!].  What was up with this Christmas present for Halter?

The official explanation was given by SEIU’s razorsharp political director, Jon Youngdahl, a couple of jumps over relative of the late and wildly great Arkansas labor lawyer, Jim Youngdahl:

“SEIU has met with Bill Halter, and finds him to be a great voice for working families with an extremely bright political future,” said Jon Youngdahl, the union’s national political director. “That’s why we’ve solicited contributions to retire his campaign debt and support his re-election campaign.”

Hmmmm…..Bill Halter has quite a lot of work to do before he quite qualifies as a “great voice for working families,” so that’s not the real answer though SEIU supporting “his re-election campaign” might just be closer to reality.

A few weeks ago when I speculated that I  thought we could bank on Senator Blanche Lincoln as a sure vote in the 60 for health care passage by throwing a sop to her Democratic base despite her only real concern with her seven (7) Republican primary opponents, I also guessed that it was unlikely that Halter would agree to challenge Lincoln given what I was hearing from friends and relatives in the Wonder State.  I would have to guess that SEIU’s sudden interest in Halter’s debt and anything in Arkansas at all, given that at this point they have no significant membership in the state anymore that could be helped by a Lt. Gov, must have come from some high level backroom discussions not with Halter, but probably with Lincoln and her campaign that dollars to donuts ended up with SEIU promising to support Lincoln aggressively if she slipped over and gave a needed vote on healthcare in the Senate.

For Halter this probably feels like Christmas, but in real terms this was just a consolation prize for him running in place and staying put for the future.

Union says it will help Ark. Lt. Gov. retire debt

12/18/2009, 5:34 p.m. EST

ANDREW DeMILLO

The Associated Press

(AP) — LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A major labor union said Friday it will help retire the 2006 campaign debt of Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, a Democrat who’s been touted as a potential primary challenger to U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln next year.

The Service Employees International Union said it is soliciting contributions to retire the debt along with the help of other labor unions. Halter reported in October that his campaign still owed him more than $444,000 that he had loaned it.

“SEIU has met with Bill Halter, and finds him to be a great voice for working families with an extremely bright political future,” said Jon Youngdahl, the union’s national political director. “That’s why we’ve solicited contributions to retire his campaign debt and support his re-election campaign.”

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The move may help remove a barrier for Halter, who’s been mentioned as a potential rival to fellow Democrat Lincoln in next year’s primary. Halter has said he is focused on his re-election campaign, and has not said whether he is considering running against Lincoln.

Lincoln, who is seeking a third term, has more than $4.1 million in the bank for her re-election bid.

“The lieutenant governor continues to raise money to retire his debt and he’s thankful for anyone who offers their help, whether it’s SEIU or any Arkansan or union or person who believes Halter is doing a great job as lieutenant governor as he prepares to run for re-election,” Halter spokesman Bud Jackson said Friday.

Steve Patterson, Lincoln’s campaign manager, said he didn’t see any indication that the union was backing Halter as a potential primary challenger.

“I accept their statement on its face,” Patterson said.

A spokeswoman for the union, which represents 2.1 million members, said union officials had not decided whether to endorse Lincoln in her re-election bid.

Lincoln has been targeted by liberals and conservatives, particularly on health care legislation. The state GOP has criticized Lincoln for voting to open debate on Democratic-led health care legislation, while the liberal organization MoveOn.Org has aired ads pressuring her for opposing a government-run insurance option.

Labor unions have expressed disappointment with health care legislation in the Senate for not including the so-called public option.

Seven Republicans have announced they’re seeking the party’s nomination to challenge Lincoln next year.