AFGE's strategy for 'good government' hinges on 2012 elections

Friday - 12/23/2011, 2:04pm EST

John Gage, President, AFGE

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With no end to lawmakers' fedbashing in sight, the American Federation of Government Employees is looking forward to 2012's presidential and Congressional elections.

"Federal workers are a sane, responsible group of citizens. They vote in big numbers," AFGE President John Gage told Federal News Radio.

Without a change on Capitol Hill, Gage said 2012 would bring much of the same threats of cuts to federal pay and programs that 2011 saw.

"Just a couple of years ago, federal employees hoped we would finally see an era of good government coming in where their work would be appreciated and, for a lot of reasons, that hasn't happened," he said. "We find ourselves in the crosshairs of a rampant, run-amuck deficit reduction quest with no rhyme or reason to it."

He blamed politicians who said "any federal employee is a bad thing, and any federal program is a bad thing" for the deadlock that has left many federal program budgets, as well as workers' compensation and benefits, in the air.

AFGE's election strategy hinges on informing the 600,000 federal employees whom it represents of lawmakers' voting records and motivating them to go to the polls.

"I'm hoping that people, when they look at certain ideologues out there that say these things, ‘There's one who has to go,'" he said.

The union will also work to build compassion for federal employees among the public.

If there was a silver lining to 2011, Gage said, it was that communities began rallying, albeit quietly, around their local feds.

He said AFGE had done studies showing that Veterans Affairs nurses, border patrol guards, or other federal employees serving their local communities draw empathy for government.

"When we ask people a generic question about cutting government, they say ‘Oh yeah, oh yeah,'" he said. "But when we say, ‘How about the nurse at your VA hospital?' they say, ‘Oh no, oh no.'"

"Sometimes you think people don't really know what government is," he said.

Next year, AFGE will "carry that debate out there and let it really sink in — what these programs are and what they mean to local communities," Gage said.

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