One of the state’s largest and most active unions has endorsed Democrat Tyler Olson’s bid for governor.

“Today is a very important day in the race for governor,” said Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Council 61, which represents over 40,000 government workers in Iowa. “…Our organization has had a long history of grassroots political activism and I expect nothing different during this campaign.”

AFSCME’s endorsement of a little known state senator from southeast Iowa helped propel Tom Vilsack to victory over Mark McCormick, a well-known ex-judge, in the 1998 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

“He was definitely the dark horse,” Homan said today of Vilsack, “and I’m not that saying Tyler is the dark horse, but Tom Vilsack went against ‘The Establishment’s’ pick…and because of our folks’ activism Tom Vilsack won the Primary, ultimately was elected governor and the rest is history.”

The union’s backing of Olson, a state representative from Cedar Rapids, means AFSCME members will work the phones, knock on doors and the union’s political action committee will make a donation to Olson’s campaign.

“What this means, hopefully, is that our members will get out and work their tails off to help this guy win the primary and then, ultimately, to defeat a governor that wants to wipe them out,” Homan said.

Republican Governor Terry Branstad and AFSCME have had a series of disputes over wages, benefits and other workplace issues during Branstad’s nearly 19 years as the state’s chief executive.

“Our members feel strongly that it is time from a change,” Homan said.

According to Homan, AFSCME chose Olson partly because of his record in the legislature.

“We were also impressed by the strong campaign organization that his campaign is building,” Homan said. “We know that Tyler Olson is a candidate that will end the divisive politics of Terry Branstad by winning on Election Day.”

Homan said it was a “hard decision” to back Olson over State Senator Jack Hatch, the other Democratic candidate for governor. Olson and Hatch met privately with a committee of AFSCME members from around the state who were assembled to make the endorsement decision.

“They just liked Tyler’s message better than they liked the message that Senator Hatch delivered,” Homan said. “This is not saying the Senator Hatch is not a good candidate. We’re going to have a difficult primary. We’re going to have to work our tails off to win this primary. We believe Tyler Olson is the guy that has the best chance to beat Terry Branstad and that’s why we made the endorsement.”

Olson said AFSCME’s support “will go a long ways” to helping him reach the governor’s office.

“People are ready for a fresh perspective in Terrace Hill and I’ve laid out my vision for what that looks like and I’m proud to have the members of AFSCME’s endorsement,” Olson said today.

Olson and Homan made the endorsement public at 4:30 this afternoon.

“With Tyler Olson sitting in the governor’s chair, this union will have the opportunity to work with the governor and the legislature to make Iowa better,” Homan said.

In the past 28 years, AFSCME has endorsed all but one of the winners in competitive Democratic Primaries for governor. The union endorsed victors Lowell Junkins in 1986, Don Avenson in 1990, Bonnie Campbell in 1994 and Tom Vilsack in 1998. In 2010, AFSCME backed Michael Blouin who lost to Chet Culver in that year’s Democratic primary.