The Electrical Worker online
November 2012

Courage & Innovation Mean Growth
Members Wage Powerful Campaigns
for Public Office

index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to

Beneath the headlines featuring the 2012 presidential campaign and high-profile Senate and House races, hundreds of elections were held to choose leaders of municipalities and states, and members of the IBEW were in on the action, working to improve the lives of their neighbors and communities.

Claudia Kyle, Portland, Ore., Local 48

I am an Oregonian from a pioneer family that settled here in 1854.
I believe in the core values of my heritage: hard work, common sense, reliability, fairness and stewardship.

– Claudia Kyle for State Representative Web site

Claudia Kyle's Democratic campaign for a seat in the Oregon State House of Representatives — in the district that includes the state capital in Salem — was built on the experience she gained in 2010 when she lost a campaign for the same office to a conservative Republican.

A 30-year IBEW member who retired in 2008 after working as a journeyman wireman, general foreman and project engineer on multi-million dollar construction projects, Kyle says, "I was always interested in the way things were going politically, but got more active in 2008 during the George W. Bush administration. I was concerned about the way our country was headed and wanted to put my energy into getting us back on track."

Kyle joined her county's Democratic committee, served on its central committee and worked on the successful campaign of Jeff Merkley for U.S. Senate before stepping into the 2010 race.

"We built on the foundation from 2010," says Kyle, whose volunteer campaign staff knocked on 10,000 doors. She expected many voters who failed to return mail-in ballots (the state's voting method) to be more engaged in 2012.

With a 30-30 Democratic-Republican split in the House and a one-member Democratic advantage in the state senate, Kyle campaigned to be part of an increasing majority that can move more ideas and programs through the legislature.

"Local 48 and IBEW are my biggest labor partners, but I received great support from the state's AFL-CIO, the SEIU and other unions," she said.

A volunteer ombudsman who visits residential care facilities and nursing homes to monitor the quality of care, Kyle says her experience there and in the electrical trade prepares her to be an effective voice for a diverse district where 70 percent of residents live in suburban communities and the rest in rural areas. Twenty percent of voters are unaffiliated with either major political party.

The graduate of Whitworth College in Washington says, "I want to be a strong advocate for our elders to make sure we are prepared for the 'silver tsunami,' as our baby boomer citizens retire."

Kyle also expresses the need to build a stronger relationship between public education and labor. She says, "We had a great educational system in Oregon, but we're down to bare bones with teacher layoffs and crowded classrooms. I will be advocating for more vocational training to make the trades a viable choice for our youth."

Her campaign focused on reaching out to Democrats, independents and Republican women, many of whom express deep differences with the right-wing stance of their party on women's issues. She says, "Like many of the people I visit, I'm frustrated about how politics is going at the national level. But I believe that by engaging locally we can make real progress in solving problems."

John Murphy, New England Local 1228

A third-generation IBEW member, John Murphy, assistant business manager of Local 1228, has a lifetime of experience building stronger communities across Connecticut. That experience is helping propel his grassroots campaign for the Connecticut General Assembly's Eighth District. Murphy knocked on 2,500 doors in his campaign against Timothy Ackert, a Tea Party Republican and nonunion electrical contractor.

"The things we fight for in the labor movement are not just union issues. Better jobs, better pay and pension security are everybody's issues," Murphy said.

During his door-to-door campaign, Murphy sometimes heard anti-union rhetoric coming from residents who complain about the benefits enjoyed by union workers. He says, "I asked them why they don't want to pull together to get those things for themselves rather than pulling others down."

For the past 11 years, Murphy, a journeyman inside wireman, has served as organizing director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, a progressive advocacy group focusing on open government, clean elections and health care reform. His campaign was aided by public funding, a reform supported early on by Citizen Action to discourage big corporate money from dominating politics.

To qualify for public funding, a state office candidate must raise a minimum of $5,000 and solicit at least 150 donations totaling no more than $100 from residents. With his $26,800 campaign treasury, Murphy was in relative financial parity with his opponent.

"With public financing, volunteer efforts become even more important," says Murphy. " I am greatly assisted by union endorsements and the labor movement's infrastructure coming to my support."

Running for public office, says Murphy, is an important part of community activists overcoming a self-defeating narrative about politics.

"There is a lot of anger toward Washington and even those in state governments," says Murphy. "Some people say all the elected leaders are bums. I tell them that it's not true. The best way to improve our government is to get involved and run ourselves."


John Murphy, New England Local 1228

Shawn Hutchinson, Phoenix, Ariz., Local 640

Shawn Hutchinson, president of Phoenix, Ariz., Local 640, ran for city council in Peoria, a suburb of the state capital. The city of 150,000 — home to spring training for the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners — has experienced explosive growth over the past three decades.

"Running for council seemed like a natural fit," said Hutchinson, who serves on one of the city's investment commissions. The future of the area is expected to be substantial. Residents want to maintain the services we have, but there is a great opportunity for positive growth, including the potential for establishing a commuter rail line."

With infrastructure improvements, future city government buildings, a convention center and other projects developing, Hutchinson — who won three out of five precincts in his primary election — said winning a council seat would be a step toward making sure that construction is conducted responsibly.

"Our city council elections in Peoria are nonpartisan," says Hutchinson. "Despite differences between residents over the national political scene, they all want a city that runs and runs well."

Eric Sunderland, Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245

Eric Sunderland, an 11-year member, had long been involved in local progressive politics and neighborhood improvement efforts when Local 1245's leadership asked him to volunteer as a "road warrior" and head to Wisconsin to work on this year's campaigns to recall anti-worker state senators.

Sunderland decided to take another step in his political activism by running for a seat on the Sacramento City Unified School District's board.

A head gardener for the city's municipal utility, Sunderland says, "Going to Wisconsin was a great opportunity bestowed upon me, an opportunity to be involved in something bigger than myself at a historic moment."

Sunderland, whose mother and grandmother were both school teachers, says he was contesting for the school board in part because of the way teachers are being scapegoated for the problems in public education. "I take it personally when politicians go after teachers or others who make our schools work," he says.

Sacramento teachers are facing challenges to their seniority system and other school system workers, like painters, are facing layoffs. Some administrators say the changes are needed to save money.

Sunderland wants to make certain that the school budget doesn't sacrifice in the wrong places. He says, "I'm hearing about millions of dollars the schools are spending on consulting fees. As a board member I would look closely at whether those monies are well spent and I would be a voice for workers on the school board."

Every day after work, Sunderland knocked on doors, recruiting others to help on the weekends. His Web site states: "As a life-long volunteer in the Sacramento community, my involvement has always included advocating for equality in education, housing and opportunity for all people. You can count on me to work hard and stand up for our schools and community in every way I can."

Sunderland knows that win or lose, it's important for activists to keep their hopes intact. He says, "My challenge is the same all activists face — to lift myself up to keep from being overcome by negative things happening, to keep a positive attitude and work for a bright spot on the horizon for working families."


Eric Sunderland, Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245

Kelly Upham-Torosian, Manchester, N.H., Local 2320

Kelly Upham-Torosian, a 15-year technician in FairPoint's central office in New Hampshire, was politically active from her earliest days working for Verizon, FairPoint's predecessor. Her enthusiasm in working to stop right-to-work legislation and elect progressive candidates to office made her the logical choice to be her local union's registrar and to sit on the executive board of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO.

Upham-Torosian helped lead last year's successful effort by unions and their allies to stop a right-to-work bill. With only 104 Democrats in a 400-seat legislature, that meant reaching out to Republican legislators for support. The IBEW had endorsed some of the Republicans in 2012.

"I was going to wait until I retired to consider running my own campaign for public office," says Upham-Torosian. "But with William O'Brien's awful record as speaker of the state's House of Representatives, I decided to throw my hat in the ring."

Campaigning for the New Hampshire House door-to-door in Rockingham, a rural, majority-Republican district, Upham-Torosian says her message was well-received particularly by the large percentage of undeclared voters who vote for the candidate, not the party. Her own experience in bipartisanship resonated with many Republican voters.

Encouraging other unionists to share the experience and opportunities of running for public office, she says, "We represent the middle class. We are the middle class. If we are not there to create laws, they will be created without our involvement, with a terrible outcome for our unions."

Read more: A pipeline into the trades in Kentucky Kentucky

Read more: Wyoming, Oklahoma working under
recovery agreements


Kelly Upham-Torosian, Manchester, N.H.,
Local 2320