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Putting union PACs out of business

The most relentless assault on labor unions in recent memory has been carried out during the main session of the Kansas Legislature.

It is going to take more than a year -- through next year's Kansas House and gubernatorial elections -- to see whether restrictions on the ability of unions to raise political action funds literally puts Democrats' most reliable source of campaign money out of business.

Besides the new law that prohibits public employers from allowing political action committee deductions from union member paychecks, the Legislature has stricken the ability of local units of government to demand that public construction project workers are paid the prevailing wage -- which might well take money out of union members' pockets.

For conservative Republicans, it's a win of massive proportions that isn't being talked about much ... yet.

Cutting off union campaign funds -- not quite, but it requires a clumsier method of automatic checking account deductions, or maybe just writing the occasional check -- means that it's going to be tougher for union friends to be elected to policymaking office.

And the prevailing-wage argument played out as a battle between giant construction companies using lawmakers as chess pieces. That bill not only slaps down Democratic stronghold Wyandotte County, which requires prevailing wage (usually the union wage rate, but sometimes a dab lower) be paid on local government-financed construction projects, but probably will mean a little less Democrat-aimed campaign money next election cycle.

The upshot? Well, we'll have to see what happens in campaigns next year, but predictably, there is going to be less money available for yard signs and palm cards and TV and radio ads for Democrats.

Republicans at the polls next election cycle may be able to meet Gov. Sam Brownback's challenge to eliminate all Democrats from the Legislature and hope the Republicans who are elected are as philosophically conservative as he is.

Or, the effect of the anti-union legislation may be to shake the so far neglected moderate Republicans, who if they manage to get into office next cycle may not have any reliable Democratic voting base to cooperate with. That may spur moderate Republicans and Democrats to start erasing that strict R vs. D line, encouraging Democrats to support Republicans they can live with in the Statehouse, and Republicans to quit focusing on the "D" behind a candidate's name on the ballot.

Because, it seems, that the foot-in-the-door toward emasculating unions' ability to raise funds for campaigns may strike moderate Republicans as close to what the conservative majority of their party has done to them.

What will the shakeout be? It's going to take an election cycle to tell, but the anti-union legislation could well turn out to be a turning point for Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Statehouse, or it could be the starting line for some new sort of political activity.

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report. To learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit www.hawvernews.com.