State Rep. Gary Moore, the newly-elected president of the Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council, says he will separate his duties as a legislator from the statewide union’s lobbying and political activities.
State Republican Chairman Chris Devaney questions whether that is possible.
“This isn’t like he’s become the president of the Mickey Mouse Club,” said Devaney. “He will be the Tennessee face of one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in America every time he shows his face on the House floor talking about an issue.”
“He needs to figure out if he wants to represent his district or represent the AFL-CIO,” Devaney said in an interview.
The GOP chairman also issued a news release last week declaring that Moore, D-Nashville, would be the “de facto campaign manager” for President Obama’s reelection effort in Tennessee.
Moore said that Devaney is wrong and that his new position is no different than that of other lawmakers who make a living outside the Legislature.
“Does Ron Ramsey become the face of auctioneers when he’s presiding over the Senate? Is Debra Maggart the face of school boards? Is Joey Hensley the face of doctors on the House floor? You could go on and on and on,” said Moore.
Senate Speaker Ramsey, R-Blountville, is an auctioneer by profession. House Republican Caucus Chairman Maggart of Hendersonville heads an organization that connects businesses with schools and Hensey, R-Hohenwald, is a physician.
Moore, 62, was elected earlier this month to succeed Jerry Lee, 72, as president of the Tennessee Labor Council, an umbrella group for most unions in the state and affiliated with the national AFL-CIO. According to the union’s national website, the Tennessee Labor Council represents about 115,000 union members in Tennessee, which is 4.7 percent of the state’s workforce
His election comes after a 2010 legislative session that saw multiple bills introduced criticized as anti-union.
Moore has been president of the Nashville Firefighters Association, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO. He resigned that position last week after his election to the AFL-CIO state presidency.
Lee was one of three registered lobbyists for the AFL-CIO during the legislative session earlier this year. One of the others, Eddie Bryan, recently retired. The third was A. J. Starling, who Moore said will now take the lead on AFL-CIO lobbying that Lee held previously.
Moore said he will not engage in lobbying legislative colleagues on union issues, leaving that to Starling, who will serve at the direction of the organization’s board, and perhaps other lobbyists yet to be designated.
Similarly, Moore said he will separate himself from the AFL-CIO’s political activities. The organization has a political action committee, known as COPE, with a board of directors that will make decisions on who gets political contributions or endorsements without his input, Moore said.
While distancing himself from the union’s formal lobbying and political efforts, Moore said he will continue to speak out on legislation and promote bills he sponsors. He filed 17 bills during the 2011 session, none directly related to unions.
Moore did act as a leading critic during the past session of bills he considered to be unfair and unwarranted attacks on unions, notably including HB2019 by Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden. Moore and some other legislators contended the bill, drafted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, would effectively make union organizing a felony in Tennessee. The bill made it to the House floor but wound up with further action put off until next year.
“That’s just part of the (Republican) mood across the country to attack labor and blame working people for everything,” Moore said.
He will continue to speak out against such legislation as a lawmaker, Moore said, because “that’s my philosophy, the way I think” regardless of whether he heads the AFL-CIO.
“I have that right to continue to do that as a legislator, to express my opinion,” he said.
But he said that speaking out on a bill in committee or floor debate can be reasonably distinguished from lobbying against a bill by meeting with legislators privately, as lobbyists typically do. The latter, he said, “would be inappropriate” for someone serving as a legislator.
“I believe I can separate the two – legislator and president of the AFL-CIO,” he said, noting that he has already held two jobs as president of the firefighters association and as a legislator.
But Moore also said the upcoming 2012 legislative session will “be a guide” and he might reconsider if any developments warrant.
See also Andy Sher’s story on Moore (who we encountered at the same time at the LP last week). An excerpt:
“They’re going to say what they’re going to say, and I’m going to do what I’m going to do,” Moore said of criticism by Tennessee Republican Party Chairman. “I’m going to do my best to move the organization forward and try to unite labor and get us all moving in the same direction.”
And The Tennessean has a Q&A with Moore on his plans.