GOP, carpenters union find things in common to discuss

Sunday, September 15, 2002

"I'll have the lamb chops," said one of my jovial hosts at lunch on a recent Monday at Spiro's on Watson Road just off Hampton Avenue in St. Louis.

And on the theory of "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," I followed suit.

In short order, the waitress brought three small chops with a side of broccoli, amounting to a memorable lunch, one of the finest in recent memory.

Still, as good as the food and hospitality are at Spiro's, the company gave me even more reason to smile.

My friendly hosts were Terry Nelson and Al Bond, two officials of the carpenters union covering the St. Louis area and all of eastern Missouri.

Why are two officials of the carpenters union dining with the first Republican Senate president in 54 years?

It's part of a historic outreach from the carpenters to Republicans, one with great implications for realignment in the politics of our state and nation over the next few years.

From the Sept. 11 issue of The New York Times came a fascinating story headlined "Bush Finds a Friend in Carpenters Union President."

Related in the story is the unfolding tale of the friendly relationship between this chief executive and Douglas J. McCarron, president of the 538,000-member United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.

President Bush has spent the last two Labor Days, with McCarron as his guest, aboard Air Force One traveling to special events, most recently a carpenters picnic outside the old union city of Pittsburgh in the swing state of Pennsylvania.

Bush narrowly lost the Quaker State in 2000.

This thaw follows McCarron's decision to pull the carpenters union out of the AFL-CIO which, the Times story says, "caused the biggest split in labor in 30 years."

AFL-CIO president John Sweeney has taken his union in an increasingly loony, hard-left direction, demonizing all Republicans and stressing wacky environmental extremism and leftist positions on a host of social issues that -- according to McCarron and his carpenters -- have next to nothing to do with the interests of working people.

Are McCarron and the union he leads ready to throw in with Republicans 100 percent?

Far from it. He has given $1.2 million to Democratic U.S. senators to help them keep the U.S. Senate in this year's pivotal races, saying the certain national Republican senate leaders "scare the living bejesus out of my members."

Still, McCarron says, "I think we've got a better chance working with this president than dissing him all the time."

McCarron follows that with this statement to the Times: "Whether a guy has a D after his name or an R, if he cherishes the values of working people, I'm going to work with him."

The morning of Sept. 12 found this writer hosting Republican House and Senate members together with carpenters union bigwigs in my office for coffee, juice and bagels with a friend from Washington, D.C.: former Republican national chairman Rich Bond, now a consultant to the carpenters. The national carpenters union-GOP thaw has now arrived in the Show Me State in a big way, leaving lots of smiles all around, and not a moment too soon.

And oh yes: If you get to Spiro's, definitely try the lamb.

Peter Kinder is assistant to the chairman of Rust Communications and president pro tem of the Missouri Senate.

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