During Republican U.S. Representative Dave Reichert's first term in office, David Rolf, president of SEIU 775, one of Washington State's most powerful unions, tried to meet with the congressman at his D.C. office. Rolf still has a sour taste in his mouth about the botched rendezvous: "I met with a 23-year-old staffer out on a couch in the reception room," he says.
Indeed, despite regular invites to SEIU events and calls to participate in its endorsement process (SEIU does endorse Republicans, including conservative Eastside Republican Luke Esser for state senate in 2006), Reichert has shown zero interest in meeting with the union. Until now, that is.
On November 28, Reichert met with Rolf at the congressman's Mercer Island office for an hour. "I met with Congressman Reichert for the first time since he took office," Rolf, a wiry, cocky, political brawler says. "He suggested the meeting."
"We'd like to have a relationship with SEIU," Reichert's chief of staff Mike Shields explains.
Could it be that Bush ally Reichert is antsy about 2008? Antiwar challenger Democrat Darcy Burner, who came within 7,000 votes of beating Reichert in 2006, currently has more cash on hand: $370,228 to the incumbent's $339,518. More impressive, 90 percent of Burner's cash has come from individual donors (as opposed to political action committees) while only 56 percent of Reichert's money is from individuals.
Reichert's views aren't in sync with the increasingly blue Seattle suburbs he represents. Reichert has been a consistent vote for President Bush on the war (voting three times this year against stipulations on war funding). He's also been a solid social conservative: He voted for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage; he voted against funding for Planned Parenthood; and he voted for stricter abortion parental-notification laws.
Lately, however, Reichert seems to be moving left. He shocked a Seattle audience by broadcasting an anticorporate media message to last month's FCC hearing at Town Hall ("Relaxing restrictions on media ownership is clearly not in the public interest... a diverse media market reduces the risk that news will be censored or slanted by a few controlling interests"). He also voted for a gay-rights bill last month, and voted to override Bush's veto of a low-income children's health-care bill (SCHIP).
SEIU takes some credit for moving Reichert on SCHIP. SEIU flooded his district with robo calls after Reichert initially voted against the children's health-care bill in August. In late September, after the SEIU phone blitz, Reichert voted for the bill. Then he called for a meeting with the politically active union. (SEIU was a powerful force for Burner in 2006.) Looks like Reichert is running scared.
Reichert's office disputes this version of events—convincingly. The yea vote he cast in September was for an amended version that Reichert pushed and got in the Senate reconciliation version. Reichert then met with SEIU, Shields says, to set the SCHIP record straight with the union.
Why Reichert felt it was important to set the record straight with a union he'd refused to acknowledge in the past, however, is another question.