Wisconsin Political Coordinator Wins for Vets and Workers
June 4, 2010
When you ask Dave Boetcher what he did during the war, the 27 year National Guard and Army Reserve veteran who served in Iraq would probably tell you he was responsible for storing ammunition and protecting soldiers and civilians from unexploded rounds.
But Boetcher, president of Madison, Wis., Local 159 could just as well answer, “Which war?”
Boetcher, who was recently appointed to the state’s Board of Veterans Affairs, has seen tough combat here at home as IBEW’s Wisconsin political coordinator as well as in two wars. He defended Sen. John Kerry from the unprincipled attacks of the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” during the presidential campaign of 2004 and turned around attacks on candidate Sen. Barack Obama in 2008.
In these historic political battles, Boetcher once again marshaled ammunition—the powerful assets of membership mobilization and education. Says Local 159 Business Manager Mark Hoffman:
The son of a Teamster, who spent a summer driving with his father in an over-the-road rig, Boetcher says that educating members is the union’s biggest responsibility. No one’s against lowering taxes, for instance. But, members, he says, need to know the consequences. “That means fewer construction projects, less money for health care and schools and everything that needs to be done.”
After joining the National Guard in 1981, Boetcher, a Beloit native, spent four years at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Walking around a campus noted for its anti-war activity in his ROTC uniform, he learned that things had changed since the 1960s. “The campus is anti-war, but not anti-soldier,” says Boetcher, the Democratic National Committee’s mid-west veteran’s council coordinator, who also served as vice president of the Veterans and Military Families for Progress. More pro-soldier sentiment is desperately needed, says Boetcher, who also served in the first Gulf War. He says:
Boetcher hopes to connect more returning veterans to apprenticeship programs and push for more regional medical clinics to meet the needs of vets who require ongoing care, including mental health treatment.
After graduation from UW, Boetcher worked for a nonunion cable firm, then joined IBEW’s inside wireman apprenticeship in 1988.
In 1998, Boetcher’s electrical skills landed him a job as a part-time teacher at Technical College where all Local 159 day school and most of the night school apprentices are taught.
Struck by the glaring disparities between full and part-time teachers, Boetcher studied how part-time instructors had made gains in California by combining organizing with political action. He led other part-time instructors, organizing a unit of the American Federation of Teachers. Three years later, they succeeded in winning a 25 percent wage increase and state retirement system coverage for part-time teachers. That sense of community responsibility and activism has not waned. Today he sits on lots of committees and rubs shoulders with policy leaders. Boetcher tells members:
“The IBEW [state conference of electricians] has had good lobbyists in the past,” says Sixth District International Representative Terry Roovers, “but under Dave Boetcher, the political presence of inside construction locals is magnified five or six-fold. And Dave has coordinated well with outside locals, too.”
Boetcher was a key player in overcoming opposition last year to win major legislative victories in the state including the securing of $275,000 for IBEW training in renewable energy and a strong electrical licensing law. He helped level the playing field in the electrical construction industry by lowering the threshold for jobs carrying prevailing wage mandates from $240,000 to $25,000 and increasing penalties for companies that misclassify workers.
Lobbying, says Boetcher, has helped him overcome once stereotypical thinking. Politicians are often portrayed negatively, he says. But most of them are real people trying to help their communities. “They just need to learn the issues involved,” he says. Once you get them the information, he says, they often try to help.
Political activism leaves just enough time for Boetcher to spend with his 10 year-old daughter. But the depth of his experience has opened a window for father and daughter to reflect upon the kinds of qualities that define his heroes—people like Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) and retiring Democratic Rep. David Obey. He says: