One year from this week – on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 – people will vote on all 435 Representatives in Congress, a third of the 100 U.S. Senators, and dozens of governors, and labor is choosing where to use its resources.
Organized labor plans to focus much of its political activity on the states, a move that’s more than justified considering the series of assaults on working people and unions at state capitals since the last mid-term elections in 2010. From Right-to-Work (for less) laws to reducing workers’ collective bargaining rights, half a dozen governors will get the most attention from the AFL-CIO’s 12 million members and their Political Action Committees.
Meanwhile, however, dozens of toss-up Congressional districts also may offer opportunities for labor to take advantage of Americans’ dissatisfaction with Congress in general and in particular with Republicans’ failed government shutdown and ongoing obstructionist tactics.
Just 5 percent of the public approves of the job being done by Congress, according to an Associated Press-GfK survey out October 9. Meanwhile, an Oct. 4 poll about 24 “swing” Congressional districts where Republicans are the incumbents show those Representatives behind in 17 of them, with 2 neck-and-neck with unnamed Democratic opponents, and 5 still “safe,” according to pollsters Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling and Celinda Lake of Lake Research.
Nationally, House Democrats need a switch of 17 seats next year to regain a majority.
However, such political work will be challenging. Re-districting by GOP-controlled legislatures and the specter of a typically low mid-term election voter turnout made worse by repressive voter-ID laws together make next year’s political campaign a long struggle to engage the electorate in order to maintain Democrats’ slim majority in the Senate and make strides in the House. Eight Democratic Senate seats are in states where Mitt Romney won and the incumbents face strong challenges or are retiring.
Democratic candidates in 2010 won the popular vote in U.S. Congressional districts by just over 50 percent, but Republican candidates – despite losing by 1.4 million votes overall – nevertheless won almost 55 percent of the races. Gerrymandered districts will remain a problem at least until 2020, so even if Democrats hold on to the Senate, a chance to make meaningful changes in the U.S. Supreme Court may not be for years.
Besides the Supreme Court’s terrible “Citizens United” decision virtually killing campaign finance regulations by “animating” corporations with the rights of human beings, the GOP in Washington defeated a minimum wage hike and is blocking both immigration reform and even a new Farm Bill. Ahead, women’s right to choose may be in jeopardy, and the Supreme Court’s evisceration of the successful Voting Rights Act is letting state legislatures restrict access to the polls in Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Such statehouses are where Republican extremists targeted labor in general and public-sector unions in particular, and labor and its allies haven’t forgotten. Governors in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin will be in re-election campaigns, facing an angry labor movement as well as Democrats. Govs. in Maine and Pennsylvania also are on the AFL-CIO’s priority list.
The main challenges will be those manipulated borders of Congressional districts, shaped to favor incumbents, and virtually unlimited spending by Republicans’ patrons, such as the billionaire Koch brothers.
That’s why the AFL-CIO is not counting on outspending the Right wing, but an “investment in human capital” to win in 2014, according to AFL-CIO spokesman Jeff Hauser, who says, “This is not about spending more money.”
The key to mounting powerful opposition will be in grass-roots organizing and sophisticated technology. Learning from the victorious Obama campaigns, the effort will use databases to target voters and will tap social media in “developing people’s skills and their comfort level in talking about politics," according to Hauser.
The stakes are much more than payback or a one-time tantrum about some bill or court ruling. The 2014 election in some ways is about resisting further corporate domination of the nation and also what’s practically secession – in other words, preserving the country as a federal republic.
Progressive and former California lawmaker Tom Hayden said, “There is no getting around the deep streaks of male chauvinism, Christian Triumphalism, plain racism, and market fundamentalism that mark so much Right-wing rumination. Those divides are being institutionalized.
“Using the tools at their disposal, Right-wing Republicans are not trying to ‘take over’ the United States as much as carve out a virtual country of their own based on states' rights and resistance to the national governing majority,” Hayden continued. “They want to be able to live in an America where Barack Obama is a bad memory of an illegitimate president.”
Bill Knight’s newspaper columns are archived at billknightcolumn.blogspot.com
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.