St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Monday, July 27, 2009

McCaskill suffers wasted hit over ‘card check’

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) wasted some of her political capital this month defending the “card check” provision of the proposed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). That provision would have required employers to recognize a union as soon as a majority of workers signed cards saying they wanted a union, without a secret-ballot election. While supporting that provision in a conference call with Missouri radio reporters, Sen. McCaskill downplayed charges that card check would allow union organizers to intimidate workers into signing union representation cards. According to Missourinet the blog, McCaskill stated,

I think that this notion that thugs are going to go out and slash people's tires in order to get them to check a card is ludicrous and insulting to working people. That's not going to happen. And, there have been literally a handful of instances where there has been any kind of allegation that has been proven in that regard in the last 20 years.

That quote caused some opponents of the bill to charge that McCaskill had admitted the existence of proven allegations of tire slashing in union organizing efforts in “a handful of instances,” and that she had been too dismissive of the seriousness of such incidents.

That’s the kind of thing that could find its way into future Republican negative attack ads.

McCaskill endured that criticism for nothing, though, because less than 10 days later, Democratic Party leadership let her hang out to dry when key senators dropped that provision from EFCA.

Organized Labor still supports the bill without card check, because its current provisions require that the representation election be held more promptly, reducing the employer’s opportunity to lobby its employees to vote against the union, and because of its binding arbitration provisions. The latter provisions would allow federal arbitrators named by the government to decide disputes over wages and benefits. Unions are hopeful (and business leaders are fearful) that federal arbitrators, especially those appointed by a labor-friendly administration, would be likely to require employers to pay wages and benefits that approach what the unions demand. Many business lobbyists fear the arbitration provision the most, but opposing it won’t be as easy as appealing to Americans’ devotion to the secret ballot.

Realistically the revised bill is better, and it will pass without further bloodshed.

Friday, July 17, 2009

National 2010 preview: candidate recruitment is key

This appears to be one of those times when a mid-term election will be an important trendsetter. The 2010 elections will determine whether President Obama is able to translate his personal popularity into a generation-long realignment that gives the Democratic Party - and especially its progressive wing - total control over government policy, or whether the public will react negatively and pare back the current Democratic majorities and perhaps even return control of one house of Congress to the Republicans.

The most important factor that will answer that question is the economy (and the electorate’s perception of it) in the fall of 2010. But the magnitude of any shift will depend on something much more organizational - the parties’ respective ability to recruit good candidates for close contests. It is very seldom when a vulnerable incumbent loses to an unsophisticated, underfinanced ticket filler. And blank spots on the ballot never win.

The Democrats have a leg up on candidate recruitment, because their candidates already hold most of the seats that are in play and will be seeking reelection with the advantages (in most cases) that incumbency provides. Republicans will be fighting a dispirited mood left over from 2008 and more retirements creating open seats to defend. And both parties, when seeking either challengers or open-seat contestants, will have to fight the usual reluctance of potential candidates to run when they fear they might lose. Unfortunately, most candidates (and nearly all recruitees who decide against running) give paramount consideration to their own careers, instead of serving to advance the party or ideology they support.

In the House, the ying and yang of politics should favor Republicans. After consecutive elections with big gains by Democrats, the President’s party now already holds nearly all of the seats they have a realistic chance of winning (and even a few they shouldn’t). Around 50 current Democrat seats are in districts that elected a Republican to the seat within the last four years. While some are suburban districts whose demographic or political changes should continue to favor Democrats, many new rural incumbents will be vulnerable. So will some longer tenured Democrats who are personally popular but represent districts carried by both George W. Bush and John McCain.

Different mechanics favor Democrats in the Senate, because the senators that are up in 2010 were elected in 2004, a Republican year. Most vulnerable seats (New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina, Kentucky, Louisiana, Florida and Missouri) are currently held by Republicans. Democrats, on the other hand, “de-recruited” their most vulnerable incumbent, Illinois’ Roland Burris, and Democratic Primary voters may do the same to embattled Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd. If Dodd loses his primary, the most vulnerable seat to Republican takeover might be that of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, whose defense is certain to be well-funded. Other potential seats for Republican takeover are Democrat-trending Colorado, a popular incumbent in North Dakota, and an Arkansas seat with a Republican Party in serious disarray. The Democratic nominees for the seats now held by party-switcher Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and appointed Sen. Kristen Gillibrand in New York will probably be bloodied after tough primary fights, but those are both really expensive seats for cash-strapped Republicans to contest. From a GOP point of view, the same dollars that it would take to run just a respectable losing campaign in either of those states would be enough to buy three other seats (in New Hampshire, North Dakota and Arkansas). These factors favor Democrats expanding their filibuster-proof senate majority, even if the country’s mood favors a Republican resurgence.

While the direction of 2010's political wave is still uncertain, the benefitting party won’t be able to ride that wave without credible, adequately financed candidates. That battle is being waged right now. I can’t begin to cover the house races, but recruiting a candidate with the name recognition and gravitas to raise the funds necessary to challenge an incumbent will be crucial to Republican chances.

In the Senate, both parties are pleased with their candidates for open Republican-held seats in Missouri and Ohio. Republicans appear to have won the recruiting war to keep their Florida seat with popular centrist Gov. Charlie Crist, but Democrats have the recruiting edge for the Republican-held seat in New Hampshire. Poor recruiting may doom Democrat chances to unseat Republican Senators Richard Burr in North Carolina and sex-scandal tarnished David Vittert in Louisiana, as well as Republican chances to topple Reid in Nevada and appointed incumbents Gillibrand (NY) and Michael Bennet (who has never run for public office!) in Colorado. Republican takeover chances in several states depend on their ability to recruit reluctant stars who could ride the expected wave. These include Gov. John Hoeven in North Dakota, Attorney General Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire and former Gov. (and current Fox News personality) Mike Huckabee in Arkansas, none of whom are yet on board. Kentucky Democrats have too many recruits, as two statewide officeholders will compete to take on embattled Sen. Jim Bunning.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Special interests wreck 'cap and trade' bill

Last week the U.S. House of Representatives passed the so-called American Clean Energy and Security Act (commonly referred to as “cap and trade”), but what it passed was a severely watered-down version that takes only the smallest steps toward reducing greenhouse gases. While it may be marginally better than no act at all, it fails the people in these ways:

  • The bill’s targets are far less ambitious than what is achievable with already existing technology, far weaker than science says is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change.
  • The bill’s targets are undermined by massive loopholes that could allow the most polluting industries to avoid real emission reductions until 2027.
  • Rather than provide relief and support to consumers, the bill showers polluting industries with hundreds of billions of dollars in free allowances and direct subsidies that will slow renewable energy development and lock in a new generation of dirty coal-fired power plants.
  • The bill removes the President’s authority to address global warming pollution using laws already on the books.
The final bill contained those flaws because the decision-making process was co-opted by oil and coal lobbyists determined to sustain our addiction to dirty fossil fuels. This occurred with the Democratic Party in total control over that process.

For these reasons, the Waxman-Markey bill was actively opposed by a broad coalition of environmental protection activist organizations, including Greenpeace USA, Public Citizen, Friends of the Earth, Citizen Power, Center for Biological Diversity, The Utility Reform Network (TURN), the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network, Coal Moratorium Now!, the Rainforest Action Network, International Rivers, and the Energy Justice Network. A joint public statement by these and various local groups observed that the bill “failed to adequately strengthen protections for consumers, communities, and the climate” and “it erased all doubt of who will benefit most from it: Big Business. The resulting bill reflects the triumph of politics over science, and the triumph of industry influence over the public interest.”

While the bill was opposed by Republican congressmen (all but 8) plus an assortment of "blue dog" energy producing and farm state Democrats, it also drew the active opposition of Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), perhaps the most progressive member of Congress. "It won’t address the problem," he said. "In fact, it might make the problem worse. It sets targets that are too weak, especially in the short term, and sets about meeting those targets through Enron-style accounting methods." He outdid the environmental organizations by listing 13 detailed reasons why the bill that passed the House is bad for the country.

The biggest problem is the bill's subsidies to the coal industry, which Kucinich described as "one of the primary sources of the problem that should be on its way out." Kucinich criticized these "massive corporate giveaways at taxpayer expense," pointing out, "There is $60 billion for a single technology which may or may not work, but which enables coal power plants to keep warming the planet at least another 20 years."

Kucinich offered or co-sponsored 10 separate amendments that collectively would have turned the bill into an acceptable starting point, but the Democratic House leadership refused to allow any of them to be offered to the full House.

Apparently the Democrats’ seizing control of Congress from corporate-owned Republicans in 2006 meant nothing. Now we get bad legislation from corporate-owned Democrats instead.