The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, November 21, 2014

Election yields more of the same: labor's friends in office are few and far between

By The Building Tradesman

LANSING – Michigan’s voters have had a good look from 2010-2014 at what total Republican control of state government looks like. Michigan being made into a right-to-work state. Permanent reduction of jobless from 26 weeks to 20 weeks. New rules that make it nearly impossible for injured employees to get workers compensation benefits. Higher taxes on senior pensions, lower taxes for corporations.

“Look what these guys (Michigan’s Republican lawmakers) have done, it’s all out there, they’ve been an open book,” one Democratic political operative told us before the Nov. 4 general election. Indeed, afterward, a majority of the state’s voters used the ballot box to indicate they apparently liked reading from that Republican playbook.

With GOP Gov. Snyder’s 51-47 percent win over Democrat Mark Schauer, the GOP now has the governor’s seat for the next four years. Republicans increased by one seat their lead in the state Senate, and now have a 37-11 super-majority. Republicans gained three seats in the state House, and now have a 63-47 majority. The GOP also maintained its 5-2 advantage on the state Supreme Court.

The lone right spot for candidates supported by labor: Democrat Gary Peters defeated GOP challenger Terry Lynn Land for Michigan’s open U.S. Senate seat.

“Gary Peters bucked a trend tonight, by standing up to the Koch Brothers and other outside special interests who tried to buy an election in Michigan,” said Michigan AFL-CIO President Karla Swift. “Gary won because he didn’t let dishonest attacks go unanswered – and because thousands of grassroots volunteers helped him carry a winning message all across the state.

“We’re disappointed, of course, that Mark Schauer was not successful in his campaign for governor. Mark spoke loudly and clearly about the concerns of real people who work for a living. Our campaign to stand up for working families doesn’t stop on Election Day.  Michigan workers will continue to advocate a positive agenda in Lansing and in Washington, based on creating the job and income growth for the middle class that is a proven path to broadly shared prosperity.”

A hoped-for increase in turnout by organized labor and Dems never materialized. There were  3,151,835 Dems who voted on Nov. 4, 74,253 fewer than in the last midterm election in 2010. Schauer received about 189,500 more votes than Virg Bernero did in 2010, but he still lost by 128,130 votes. There hasn’t been much released on the union vote in 2014, although MIRS did report that Gov. Snyder won almost 30 percent of the union household vote this year.

“As Michiganders who love this great state, our work must continue,” said Schauer in a statement after his loss. He added, “Never give up. When we get knocked down, we get right back up again.”

Voter numbers in the state House elections were closer than would appear by the results. “Democrats lost six races that were decided by fewer than 1,000 votes, three of them were decided by fewer than 350 votes each,” said MIRS News Service. “On top of that, Democrats lost all nine of the top nine closest races from Tuesday.

“If you add up the margins of difference from the eight closest races, about 5,529 votes separated the Democrats from winning 55 seats to tie the balance of power in the House. If about 7,399 GOP votes would have gone Democrats’ way in the nine closest races instead of Republicans’ way, Democrats would have claimed the majority.”

Nationally, labor’s candidates got licked, too. Republican lawmakers flipped the Senate, and now control 54 of the body’s 100 seats. The GOP maintained control of the House, winning 243 seats to the Democrats’ 192. It all adds up to the most dominant Republican Congress since 1929. But the new GOP majority in both houses of Congress are unlikely to end the interminable gridlock in Washington, with President Obama in place to use his veto pen.

“But the fact of the matter is that people are disillusioned by endless political bickering and eyed these elections with great dispirit,” said AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka. “In way too many elections, they got a false choice. In these very difficult times, they did not get a genuine economic alternative to their unhappiness and very real fear of the future.”

There’s bound to be some action in Washington D.C. The new Congress will likely finally force Obama to choose between approving or canceling the Keystone Pipeline. More effort will likely be made to whittle away at the Obama’s Affordable Care Act. More fast-track trade legislation is likely to be introduced. America’s Building Trades Union President Sean McGarvey said he sees opportunity with the new Congress.

“The message sent by the American electorate in yesterday’s election was plain and simple: they are tired and fed up with partisan warfare and incessant gridlock.  Their simple desire is for Congress to focus on serious work, not trivial political pursuits.

“A good place to start would be to work with the Administration on crafting an effective and robust plan to invest in the re-building of America’s crumbling infrastructure; as well as approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and the formulation of a comprehensive national energy policy.  Such actions offer so many positive economic attributes that it is mind-boggling to most Americans as to why we have continuously failed to come to agreement on these types of issues that are so basic and straightforward.

“Just like in this election, where our members worked tirelessly on behalf of candidates -both Republican and Democrat alike – who understand the basic concerns of working American families, North America’s Building Trades Unions have historically been willing to work with lawmakers from any and all political persuasions who place a priority on solving our nation’s pressing problems, rather than scoring political points.

“The livelihoods of the 3 million skilled craft men and women who comprise our unions depend, in large part, on our government operating in an efficient and productive manner.”