The Calm Before The Storm

willa cather quote“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.”   – Willa Cather

December is the calm before the storm. I’ve delayed writing a post-election synopsis partly due to the fact that the gains Republicans made in the 2014 election are so enormous it is hard to digest what that all means into a cohesive blog entry.

But analyzing them is even more difficult to decipher since parallel to GOP electoral victories, 2014 also resulted in populist referendum victories.

In Illinois, though voters chose billionaire Republican Bruce Rauner by 50.8 percent over incumbent Governor Pat Quinn 45.9 percent, those same voters also approved progressive advisory referenda by wide margins. 67% of Illinoisans voted to raise the minimum wage, and 63.5% of them also voted to levy a millionaire tax.

They also voted to amend the Illinois constitution to protect voting rights with this language:

“No person shall be denied the right to register to vote or to cast a ballot in an election based on race, color, ethnicity, status as a member of a language minority, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or income.”

This far-reaching language now enshrined in the constitution isn’t exactly what you’d expect from a populace that selected for Governor a man whose private equity firm CTGR is named in over 150 lawsuits for negligence and wrongful deaths at nursing homes managed by the firm.

Other states had similar results. Voters chose Republicans overwhelmingly for state legislatures, and they now have majorities in a majority of states. Voters also elected more Republicans and the GOP now controls the US Senate.

However, like in Illinois, voters themselves when given direct authority on actual policy, showed remarkably progressive positions.

Other states that approved minimum wage increases through ballot measures in 2014 include Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Not exactly bastions of liberalism there.

Anchorage voters repealing an ordinance which had removed city employees’ right to strike, limited annual pay increases, outlawed performance bonuses or incentives in future contracts, and set up a system for outsourcing some work done by city employees. Has Sarah Palin land suddenly surged to the left?

Also, Phoenix voters defeated Proposition 487, which would have changed the city’s retirement system from a defined benefit system to a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan. Certainly there are a lot of retirees in Arizona, but they typically are anti-union conservatives, so what gives?

And it’s not just economic or voting issues that demonstrate that the electorate is far more liberal that the conservatives they elected. Marijuana expanded its legitimacy with legalization approved by voters or legislators in Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia.

So, come January, we will have a collection of conservative legislators at the state and national levels who will insist they were given a mandate to push through conservative positions even though just 36.4% of voters bothered to turn out.

We will have a Senate led by Mitch McConnell who will push the TPP, Keystone Pipeline (1st vote of the session!), and a repeal of Obamacare.

Wisconsin Republicans will introduce Right to Work legislation to weaken the private sector unions. In other states, where RTW hasn’t been able to pass the statehouse, Republican County Supervisors and City Council members will introduce it at the municipal level.

A bill in Missouri will be sponsored that requires a woman to get her husband’s permission to terminate her pregnancy.

Iowa’s Republican Governor promises to further drain the state’s revenues with income tax cuts, a move that will likely be supported by weak-kneed Democrats fearful for electoral retribution in 2016.

And beyond the walls of the legislative halls, the barons of Wall Street will have free reign to profit off toxic assets that are underwritten by you and me thanks to the bi-partisan budget bill just passed by Congress and signed by President Obama.

We will have to contend with a conservative dominated Supreme Court that just issued a decision that legalizes wage theft.

But we will also have a progressive dominated National Labor Relations Board and lower court appointments just approved by the Senate.

So what shall we do to prepare for the new year? Get a good pair of marching boots and hone your listening and speaking skills so we do not approach policy like a bunch of shrill reactionaries.

And do as we always say in the Labor Movement: organize, organize, organize!

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