"I'm a true believer. The purpose was always individual freedom. It is no longer legal to be discriminated against or fired on the basis of support or nonsupport of a private organization."
The Idaho Statesman tells the extraordinary story:
Dan Popkey: Glenn returns to celebrate 25 years of Right to Work in Idaho
One of the most polarizing figures in Idaho history is marking a triumph that changed the workplace and solidified the Republican hold on Idaho.
Gary Glenn, now 52, was the baby-faced but ruthless leader of the long campaign to make Idaho the 20th of 21 states to outlaw "union shops," where workers are obligated to pay dues as a condition of employment.
After the passage of Right to Work in 1985 over the veto of Democratic Gov. John Evans, voters affirmed the change 54 percent to 46 percent. The subsequent emasculation of a key component of the Democratic base has changed politics forever.
"It was a big victory for the Republican Party and a big defeat for the Democrats," said Roger Madsen, a former GOP state senator who leads the Idaho Department of Labor. Madsen will join his boss, Gov. Butch Otter, and others Thursday night at a banquet organized by Glenn at the DoubleTree Riverside in Garden City.
The political culture has changed so much that the current Democratic nominee for governor, Keith Allred, declines to take a stand on an issue that was once a Democratic litmus test.
"What a difference 25 years makes," Glenn said.
Jim Kerns, president of the Idaho AFL-CIO from 1981 to 1992 and a key player in a 1970 Treasure Valley grocery strike, said the anniversary dredges up bitter memories. "You can't have an effective strike today in Idaho and everybody knows it," he said.
Steve Ahrens, a former Statesman political editor who became a business lobbyist and favors Right to Work, said the landmark campaign was plenty bitter. "The tactics on both sides were equally despicable," Ahrens said. "They ranged from scurrilous to reprehensible."
Kerns, 71, would just as soon forget it and focus on his grandkids and celebrating his Boise State Broncos. But Glenn, also a big Bronco fan, loves reliving the fight.
He edited 30 hours of video to 27 minutes for the banquet. Highlights include Oscar winner Charlton Heston's pivotal TV spots and lawmakers like Boise Republican Kitty Gurnsey, saying she was voting "aye" so Right to Work backers would go away. Glenn, who moved to Idaho in 1978, engineered defeats of key GOP opponents in order to win near-unanimous Republican support.
The result is a more conservative Idaho GOP and a weaker Democratic Party, Glenn said: "A party that could not sustain itself in the free market of public debate is no longer subsidized by compulsory union dues."
After the 1986 campaign, Glenn went to work for the Idaho Cattle Association and famously was barred from the governor's office by Democrat Cecil Andrus. (Evans also ousted Glenn's video crew when he tried to film the 1985 veto.)
Glenn ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1992 against now-Sen. Mike Crapo.
He spent six years as an Ada County commissioner before being defeated and leaving to become president of the American Family Association of Michigan. He's now the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit to overturn the federal hate crimes law on grounds that it infringes on religious freedom.
"I'm held in the same regard among homosexual activists in Michigan as I was by AFL-CIO officials in Idaho," Glenn said.
Kerns takes some comfort in the fact Glenn left. Kerns still calls him a carpetbagger.
He says Right to Work has transformed Idaho into a company town. "Idaho's still a great place to live, but I don't think it's a great place to work," he said.
Union membership has tumbled nationwide since 1985, dropping from 18 percent to 12 percent of the work force.
In Idaho, the decline was steeper, from 12 percent in 1985 to 6 percent in 2009.
Kerns and Glenn disagree on the economic impacts. Kerns points to the relative decline in Idaho wages, from 84 percent of the national average in 1985 to 75 percent in 2008. Glenn cites two decades of job growth that easily exceeded all but a few states.
Researchers also differ. One study says that after you account for the fact the Right to Work states started off poorer, wages have risen faster than national rates. Another says Right to Work has brought a 6.5 percent "wage penalty."
Northwest Nazarene University economist Peter Crabb suggests Right to Work made employment more stable. Boise State economist Don Holley says lower wages may have made the housing bubble worse.
Glenn concedes there's almost religious fervor about the impact of Right to Work.
But economics weren't the most important aspect of the campaign, he said.
"I'm a true believer," he said.
"The purpose was always individual freedom. It is no longer legal to be discriminated against or fired on the basis of support or nonsupport of a private organization."