Progressives are rarely satisfied. It is part of our political DNA. There’s so much injustice in the world, it’s sometimes hard to feel that we’re making progress. But as Chinese philosopher Laozi reminded us, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
As I document in my book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame, the radical ideas of one generation are often the common sense of the next generation. One hundred years ago, ideas like Social Security, the minimum wage and women’s suffrage were considered radical. Fifty years ago, most African-Americans in the South couldn’t vote, few women were welcome in politics and many professions, and all but a handful of gays and lesbians were locked in the closet. In other words, if we take a long view, we can see that things do often change for the better, sometimes in big leaps, but usually in incremental stages.
Many progressives equate the word “compromise” with “sell-out,” but the strategic question is whether compromises are dead ends or stepping stones to further progress. In their book Organizing for Social Change, Kim Bobo, Steve Max and Jackie Kendall contend that activism is successful if it (1) wins real improvements in people’s lives, (2) gives people a sense of their own power and (3) changes the structure of power so that people begin the next phase of movement-building with greater leverage.
So let’s look back at 2012 and see if we can recognize 25 victories – elections, ballot measures, court rulings, legislation and new waves of mobilization – that meet those three criteria.
1. 99 to 1. In September 2011, a handful of activists took over Zuccotti Park in New York, and then the movement spread to every city in the country. Although Occupy Wall Street was forced after a few months to disperse physically, its ideas have continued to resonate with the American public, including its slogan casting America’s economic divide as the 1% versus the 99%. Throughout 2012, the Occupy movement changed the nation’s conversation at dinner tables, workplaces and newsrooms. It helped frame the political debate in both the Republican and Democratic primaries by focusing public and media attention on the widening disparities of income, wealth and power. Even in the GOP primaries, Mitt Romney’s opponents attacked him as a job-killing corporate plutocrat. Democrats took advantage of the changing mood to focus attention on corporate power and the billionaires behind the tea party and the new right-wing super-PACs. Politicians and the mainstream media now consistently refer to the richest 1%, often highlighting the class warfare waged by the super-rich. Language matters. This impressive linguistic ju-jitsu has helped reframe our national conversation over taxes, the distribution of wealth and income and campaign finance.
2. LGBT Equality. Polls show that a majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage or civil unions, and that those under 40 overwhelmingly support marriage equality. Public opinion has changed dramatically in a short period, suggesting that conservatives will soon no longer be able to use homophobia as a “wedge” issue in elections. These trends pushed President Obama to publicly endorse marriage equality in 2012. And, for the first time ever, a majority of voters approved same-sex marriage ballot measures. They did it in Maine, Washington and Maryland, and in Minnesota, voters defeated a conservative-sponsored ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage. A federal appellate court ruled that California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, and two federal courts ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act. Wisconsin voters elected the nation’s first out-of-the-closet lesbian to the US Senate, Tammy Baldwin. Voters also elected a record six openly gay and lesbian candidates to the House: incumbents Jared Polis (D-Colorado) and David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island) and newcomers Sean Patrick Maloney (D-New York), Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin), Mark Takano (D-California), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona).
3. Living Wages. Voters in Albuquerque, Long Beach and San Jose passed ballot measures that will raise the minimum wage for workers in those cities. Albuquerque’s citywide minimum wage will rise from $7.50 to $8.50 per hour in January 2013 and will automatically adjust in future years with inflation. The Long Beach ballot measure raises the minimum wage for hotel workers in that tourist city to $13 per hour and guarantees hotel workers five paid sick days per year. In San Jose, the minimum wage will increase from $8 per hour – the current minimum wage in California – to $10 per hour and will adjust automatically in future years to keep pace with the rising cost of living. The San Jose campaign was triggered by students at San Jose State University as part of a class research project. Nationwide, public opinion polls show that Americans believe that the federal minimum wage should be adjusted so that full-time workers don’t earn poverty-level pay. That would mean a minimum wage over $10 an hour – comparable to what it was (in terms of purchasing power) in 1968.
4. ObamaCare Survives. Despite relentless partisan attacks in Congress and the courts since it was passed in 2010, the Affordable Care Act has taken its rightful place alongside Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as one of the pillars of the nation’s social safety net. The US Supreme Court upheld the law as constitutional, and four months later Obama was re-elected, ensuring that the law would be implemented on schedule during his second term. Now the administration must continue to educate the public about the many provisions of the law, a challenge highlighted by polls showing that many Americans know little about what they gained. The ACA stops insurance companies from denying coverage to people because they have health conditions, allows children to remain on a parent’s insurance plan until age 26 and requires insurers to cover the costs of contraception without a copayment. While some progressive advocates argue that the nation should have adopted a single-payer health care system rather than ObamaCare, other progressives and most people in the health care community see it as a bold step in the right direction. As Americans get used to the law and fully recognize and utilize its life-saving benefits, the likelihood will grow that the nation will move toward a more efficient, less costly single-payer system. Meanwhile, both Medicare and Medicaid – which together cover more than 100 million Americans – have survived sustained attacks by the Republicans to eliminate the programs as we know them and dismantle America’s system of social insurance and health security.
5. Progressives Protect Choice. Conservatives’ attempts to limit women’s reproductive freedom met with stiff opposition. Efforts to enact so called “personhood” laws (which define personhood from the moment of fertilization and ban all abortions) failed in all 11 states in which these laws were proposed. If enacted, these laws could even have banned in-vitro fertilization and some birth control methods. Led by Planned Parenthood, coalitions of health professionals, faith groups and women’s organizations challenged these conservative efforts to pass the personhood laws through state legislatures and through ballot measures in Arkansas, Colorado, California, Florida, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Virginia. These progressive victories come on the heels of similar success in Mississippi in 2011. In Florida, voters defeated, by 55 percent to 45 percent, the conservative-initiated Amendment 6, which would have denied insurance coverage for abortion services and removed from the state constitution a woman’s right to reproductive “privacy,” thus weakening the state court’s ability to block potential abortion restrictions such as mandatory ultrasound laws or gestational bans on abortion. In 2012, the Senate unanimously passed an amendment to the defense authorization bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), that would allow the military’s health insurance plan to cover the cost of abortion for servicewomen and military dependents who are survivors of rape and incest.
6. Occupy Our Homes. With 12 million homeowners still “under water” and several million families a year still losing their homes to foreclosure, community organizers around the country mobilized a significant campaign to hold Wall Street banks accountable for the damage they created through predatory lending, financial speculation and fraud. In dozens of cities, homeowners “occupied” their homes with the support of neighbors and allies and stymied banks and local sheriffs who wanted to evict them for foreclosure. Pressured by local groups, many of them affiliated with the Home Defenders League and Occupy Our Homes networks, a number of cities, including Seattle, Oakland and Los Angeles, adopted “responsible banking” laws meant to hold banks accountable to meet community needs and laws to force banks to pay for the cost of maintaining foreclosed vacant properties that blight neighborhoods. A grassroots campaign by the ReFund California coalition persuaded the California legislature to pass, and Gov. Jerry Brown to sign, a “Homeowners Bill of Rights,” which prohibits a number of unfair bank practices that have needlessly forced thousands of Californians into foreclosure. For example, it restricts dual-track foreclosures, where a lender forecloses on a borrower despite being in discussions over a loan modification to save the home, imposes civil penalties on fraudulently signed mortgage documents and allows homeowners to sue banks for fraudulent mortgage practices. Pressured by activists, and led by progressive attorneys general Eric Schneiderman of New York and Kamala Harris of California, five major banks agreed to a $26 billion multistate settlement over foreclosure abuses. In January, President Obama appointed Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the centerpiece of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, to regulate the abusive business practices of credit card companies, mortgage lenders and payday lenders. In November, Massachusetts voters elected Elizabeth Warren, the agency’s original architect, despite her being targeted by the bank lobby as their top priority for defeat. A few weeks later, she was named to the Senate banking committee, which oversees the financial industry. In his State of the Union address, Obama announced the creation of a federal-state task force to investigate and prosecute misconduct by lenders that triggered the financial crisis by selling risky residential mortgage-backed securities. Schneiderman, a task force cochair, has already sued J.P. Morgan Chase and Credit Suisse for deceiving investors and is likely to bring other banks to court, which could lead to tens of billions dollars more in bank fines that could help homeowners. Growing grassroots pressure also led the Obama administration to agree to fire acting Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Ed DeMarco, who opposed the White House’s support for a plan to allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to reduce mortgage principal for “underwater” homeowners, which would bring their mortgages in line with current home values and reduce their monthly mortgage payments, giving them more money to spend on other economic activities. Financial reform activists want the administration to require banks to renegotiate “underwater” mortgages, but getting rid of DeMarco is an important step in that direction.
7. Beating the GOP’s Voter Suppression Campaign. Thanks to an aggressive effort to educate voters, stir up controversy and take the issue to court, progressive activists beat back the Republican Party’s efforts to reduce the turnout of young voters, African Americans and Latinos in November’s elections. According to a comprehensive report by the think tank Demos, the result was a backlash against the GOP’s heavy-handed tactics to intimidate voters and suppress the turnout of Democratic-leaning constituencies that included making robocalls that misleadingly told targeted voters that the Election Day had been changed, enacting voter identification laws and, in Ohio, limiting early voting hours. But activists fought back successfully, motivating voters angered by the GOP’s skullduggery. Voting rights groups blocked 10 voter suppression laws in court. Using the GOP’s strategy against them, progressives and Democrats motivated people to vote. As a result, turnout among young, black and Hispanic voters actually increased as a share of the electorate compared with 2008, and, in many states, turnout rates jumped as well.
8. Expanding Same-Day Voter Registration. Add California to the list of states that allow voters to register and vote on election day – a victory for democracy. In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill allowing Californians to register to vote up to and including Election Day. (The current deadline is 15 days before an election). Common Cause, which sponsored the measure and shepherded it through the state legislature, says it could boost voter rolls by an estimated 8 percent. Republicans opposed the bill, warning about the potential of widespread voter fraud, even though there’s no evidence of fraud in the eight other states – Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming – that already have election day registration laws. States with such laws generally have higher levels of voter turnout, especially among low-income and young voters.
9. We’re Getting Greener All the Time. In Los Angeles, a coalition of unions, environmentalists and public health activists (including the Teamsters, the National Resources Defense Council and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy) persuaded the mayor and city council to adopt their “Don’t Waste LA” plan, an historic reform of the city’s commercial waste system that will require waste companies to get a city permit to haul trash from businesses and apartment buildings, improve working conditions for garbage haulers, dramatically expand recycling and create thousands of green jobs. The victory builds on the same blue-green coalition that over the past several years waged a successful campaign to clean up pollution at the dirty Los Angeles port and improve working conditions for the port’s truck drivers. Nationwide protests, including civil disobedience at the White House, pressured the Obama administration to delay – and perhaps to stop – construction of the 1700 Keystone XL pipeline connecting oil sand mines in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the Texas Gulf Coast. Despite the administration’s waffle on the pipeline project, it adopted two significant new environmental regulations – tightening air quality standards for fine particulate matter and doubling vehicle fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 miles-per-gallon by 2025 (which will save Americans $1.7 trillion at the gas pump) and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In June, a federal appellate court ruled that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, a move that corporate America had opposed.
10. Walmart Workers on the March. The first-ever strike by Walmart workers that began in October in a few California stores spread to over 100 cities around the country by the day after Thanksgiving, the nation’s biggest shopping day. Tens of thousands of consumers, community activists and union members demonstrated their support in rallies and some acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, drawing widespread media attention. The United Food and Commercial Workers helped catalyze the protest, sponsored by Our Walmart, a network of the big box store’s employees. Around the country and around the world, Walmart, the world’s largest private employer, is increasingly on the defensive as its corporate practices come to light – not only paying poverty-level wages but also putting profits above worker safety by contracting with dangerous sweatshops in Bangladesh (where 112 workers died in a factory fire) and elsewhere to make its clothes and toys, bribing Mexican officials to expand its retail empire and selling more guns and ammunition than any other retailer in the United States.
11. Fast-Food and Domestic Workers Gain Momentum. The past year, 2012, is likely to be seen as the year that the labor movement developed new strategies and made significant headway in organizing low-wage workers, not only those who toil for the behemoth Walmart, but also domestic workers and workers in the fast-food industry. In October, workers at McDonalds, Burger King and other fast-food chains in New York City staged a walkout to demand better pay and the right to unionize. Viewing these food-chain workers as a large and growing sector of exploited workers, the Service Employees International Union and New York Communities for Change joined forces to help coordinate the walkouts. Like farmworkers, most of America’s 1.8 million domestic workers – nannies, housekeepers, and caregivers – are not covered by federal wage, overtime, union-organizing, and other labor laws. Many toil 12 to 15 hours a day and get paid less than $200 per week. The first-ever study of this invisible workforce, released in November by the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), a national network of groups in 17 cities and 11 states, found that 23 percent of domestic workers made less than their state’s minimum wage (which must be at least $7.25 an hour). Among live-in workers, 67 percent earned below the minimum wage, 65 percent had no health insurance, about 82 percent had no paid sick days and 25 percent said their jobs made it impossible to get five hours of uninterrupted sleep. Thanks to the NDWA, New York State passed the first Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2010. Last year the California legislature adopted a similar measure, but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it in October. The activists plan to regroup and push for the bill this year in California and several other states.
12. Unions beat Proposition 32 in California. In California, labor unions helped bring out more than 40,000 volunteers and defeated the deceptive anti-union corporate power grab, Proposition 32, by a landslide 57 percent to 43 percent. Conservative forces had tried and failed three times before to persuade California voters to support a “paycheck protection” measure that would keep unions from using their members’ dues money to support candidates and ballot questions. This time, the measure’s backers – including wealthy GOP activist Charles Munger and a shadowy group linked to Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers – dressed it up as campaign finance reform, but California voters weren’t buying it, thanks to a massive voter turnout effort by labor unions and their allies.
13. Progressive Tax Reform Makes Progress. The same coalition that waged the successful campaign to defeat Proposition 32 also mounted a grassroots effort on behalf of Proposition 30, the progressive income and sales tax measure to fund California’s schools. The outcome – a 54 percent to 46 percent victory – bucked a long trend of voters rejecting higher taxes to pay for public services. Nationwide, support is growing for the so-called “Robin Hood” tax – formally called the Financial Transaction Tax – a small fee on large Wall Street transactions of currencies, bonds and shares, designed to discourage risky trades on Wall Street and to hold big banks accountable for the hardship they caused and the outrageous pay and bonuses they gave to top executives in the wake of the worst financial crisis since the Depression. The National Nurses Union is one of more than 65 organizations leading this campaign that would raise billions of dollars for health care, housing, jobs and education.
14. Dreamers Win Immigration Reform. By keeping up pressure on the White House, including meetings and direct action, United We Dream – a movement of immigrant youth, with support from immigrant rights and faith groups – pushed President Obama in June to announce his support for a policy to offer DREAM Act eligible immigrant youth protection from deportation and temporary legal status. Under the program, young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children can receive two-year deportation deferrals and work permits. After Obama made that commitment, Dream Act activists hit the streets to register and mobilize Latino and Asian voters. Already, more than 300,000 young immigrants have applied and over 53,000 have received deferrals.
15. Student Activists Gain Ground. Don’t believe the cynics and naysayers who fret about student apathy. In addition to the Dreamers movement for immigration reform, America’s campuses are bursting with activism on a variety of issues. United Students Against Sweatshops coordinates campaigns on hundreds of campuses, including pushing colleges to do business with responsible, pro-union clothing producers such as the Alta Gracia factory in the Dominican Republic, supporting efforts by campus workers to improve pay and win union recognition and pressuring universities to sever contracts with companies that mistreat workers. In late 2012, student-led campaigns to get colleges and universities to divest from the fossil fuel industry spread to almost 200 campuses. Hampshire College and Unity College have already purged their endowments from fossil fuels. At Harvard, 72 percent of students endorsed a resolution supporting divestment. Students at many other colleges have persuaded their administrations to explore divestment.
16. Not-So-Smart ALEC. For many years, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing network of corporations and state legislators, has operated under the radar, drafting “model” laws that promote gun ownership (including “stand your ground” laws), weaken unions, limit voting rights, encourage the privatization of education (such as school vouchers and charter schools) and weaken regulations that protect consumers, workers and the environment from corporate abuse. Last year the Center for Media and Democracy, along with Color of Change, waged a remarkable campaign to bring ALEC out of the shadows, identifying the corporations and billionaires that fund it. Progressive media outlets like The Nation publicized the expose’, then the mainstream media jumped on the story. Embarrassed by the publicity, many of ALEC’s corporate funders – 42 so far, including Walmart, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Coca Cola, Pepsi, McDonald’s, Amazon, Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, MillerCoors, Dell, General Motors and General Electric – have withdrawn from the organization.
17. Voters Elect a More Diverse and Progressive Senate and House. Americans not only re-elected America’s first African-American president, they also re-elected several of the most progressive Senators (including Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sherrod Brown of Ohio) and put four new progressives – Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii (the first female Asian American Senator) – in the upper chamber. Two female Democrats – Hirono and Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota – replaced males who decided to retire. All Democratic incumbent female senators up for re-election this year won, including Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Dianne Feinstein of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. As a result, 20 women – a record – will now serve in the Senate. Another milestone: In New Hampshire, women now hold every key office including Senators Kelly Ayotte (a Republican) and Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat), newly-elected Gov. Maggie Hassan (a Democrat) and Democrats Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLane Kuster, who wrested New Hampshire’s two House seats from incumbent Republicans. These victories guaranteed there would be no Republican Senate with an opportunity to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would have overturned Roe v Wade. Democrats running for the House bested their Republican rivals in the overall popular vote total. Combining the totals for all 435 House races, Democrats won 1,362,351 more votes than Republicans. Democratic House candidates earned 49.15 percent of the popular vote, while Republicans earned only 48.03 percent. So how did Republicans win a majority of the seats? Because of gerrymandering by Republican-controlled states. Although Republicans outnumber Democrats 234 to 201 in the House, there are more progressive Democrats. For the first time, a majority of House Democrats will be women, people of color or both. The ranks of the House progressives will expand, welcoming newcomers (or returning members following a hiatus) Alan Grayson (Fla.), Jared Huffman (Calif.), Dan Kildee (Minn.), Kuster (NH), Grace Meng (NY), Patrick Murphy (Fla.), Rick Nolan (Minn.), Mark Pocan (Wis.), Raul Ruiz (Calif.), Carol Shea-Porter (NH), Mark Takano (Calif.), Hakeem Jeffries (NY), and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.). Meanwhile, several of the most lunatic right-wing Tea Party Republicans – including Allen West (Fla.), Chip Cravaack (Minn.), Bobby Schilling (Ill.), Roscoe Bartlett (Md.), Ann-Marie Buerkle (NY), Francisco Canseco (Tex.), and Joe Walsh (Ill.) – lost their House seats. Even Michelle Bachmann, founder of the House Tea Party caucus, had to fight hard to keep her seat representing Twin Cities suburbs. She edged out her Democratic opponent, businessman Jim Graves, by just 4,207 votes, or a little over 1 percent of the 357,035 votes cast in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District. Bachmann outspent Graves $22.4 million to $2.2 million, an 11-to-1 margin, making it the most expensive House race. In other words, Bachmann spent $124 for each vote she received compared to Graves’ $13 per vote.
18. Local Progress. Progressive candidates won victories in hundreds of local and state races around the country. Among them was Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, whom voters re-elected in November for a second two-year term with 58 percent of the vote. A month later, Shumlin, a progressive Democrat who supports single-payer health insurance, was elected chair of the Democratic Governors Association. In Worcester, Mass., Mary Keefe, a veteran community organizer with the Pleasant Street Neighborhood Network Center and a leader of Worcester Interfaith, was elected to the state legislature, with the support of unions and community groups, on a platform of supporting progressive tax increases to stop draconian budget cuts and fund human services. In conservative San Diego, voters elected progressive Bob Filner – a former Freedom Rider (he spent two months in a Mississippi jail for defying segregation laws), college professor, school board, city council member and 10-term Congressman (and a founding member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus) – to be the city’s first Democratic mayor since 1992 and only its second since 1971. In Tallahassee, Fla., voters elected 33-year old Andrew Gillum to his third four-year term on the city commission with over 70 percent of the vote. Despite his youth, Gillum is a veteran civil rights and voting rights activist. As a college student, he helped organized a huge march on Tallahassee to protest Gov. Jeb Bush’s executive order to abolish affirmative action in state university admissions and state contracting. In addition to his position on the city commission, he serves as national director of the Young Elected Officials Network, a project of People for the American Way. In mid-November, left-leaning elected officials from 32 municipalities (including Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Hartford, Milwaukee, Mobile, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle) met in Washington, DC, to form Local Progress, a network of progressive municipal officials designed to share policy and strategy ideas. They elected Seattle City Council member Nick Licata – who sponsored the city’s paid sick-leave law, among other progressive accomplishments – as chair.
19. Mobilizing the Union Vote. Although union members represent only 11 percent of all American workers, they comprised 18 percent of voters in the November election – higher in key swing states where unions targeted their resources. Union members were not only more likely than non-union workers to vote, they also were more likely to knock on doors, make phone calls and participate in other grassroots campaign activities. More than any other constituency, union members comprise the ground troops for progressive candidates and causes. An analysis of exit polls by Guy Molyneaux of Hart Research Associates also reveals that unions played an important role in offsetting key demographic and social factors that often push voters to support Republicans. For example, 65 percent of union members, compared with 47 percent of nonunion voters, supported Obama. Among union men, 61 percent voted for Obama, compared with only 40 percent of nonunion men. A whopping 72 percent of union women (compared with 53 percent of nonunion women) voted for Obama. Union membership often trumped racial prejudice. Fifty-five percent of white male union members went for Obama compared with only 31 percent of white males who don’t belong to unions. Similarly, 65 percent of white women in unions preferred Obama, compared with only 39 percent of nonunion white women. Obama didn’t expect to get many votes among white evangelicals, but union membership made a significant difference in how these religious Christians voted. Obama won the votes of 35 percent white evangelicals who were also union members, but only 16 percent of white evangelicals who had no union affiliation. Even among Latinos, union membership was significant in influencing their vote; 80 percent of unionized Latinos voted for Obama but only 70 percent of nonunion Latinos did so.
20. Hurricane Sandy Revealed Support for Big Government, Even by Republicans. Big disasters, such as the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center, earthquakes, hurricanes and plane crashes often remind Americans, even Republican politicians, why they need government – and government employees. Disasters like Hurricane Sandy often bring out the best in the American people, including the spirit of volunteerism and compassion. But they also bring out the hypocrisy of GOP politicians, who love to attack “big government,” unless it’s for corporate subsidies, military spending or disaster relief. Exhibit No. 1 is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has made his reputation as a budget-slashing, tax-cutting bully. In his keynote speech at the Republican convention in August, Christie touted his record of attacking New Jersey’s public employees in New Jersey. Democrats, Christie said, think that Americans “need to be coddled by big government.” Republicans, in contrast, are willing to make the “hard choices” to “cut federal spending and fundamentally reduce the size of government.” But three months later, as soon as Hurricane Sandy swept through the Garden State, destroying cities and towns along its Atlantic coast, Christie was understandably first in line with a cup in his hand, begging President Obama for federal aid and hugging Obama for the cameras. Conservative Congressman Peter King (R-NY) raised such holy hell when Congress failed to authorize $60 billion to aid Sandy’s victims, primarily in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, that Speaker John Boehner agreed to schedule a vote by January 15.
21. Chicago Teachers Win Their Strike. Like their counterparts around the country, Chicago’s teachers have taken a beating over the past few years, as conservative billionaires and corporate foundations push their agenda of privatizing public education with vouchers, charter schools, over-reliance on standardized tests and business-style management that seeks to denigrate and punish teachers rather than collaborate with them. Finally, in September, 29,000 Chicago teachers went on strike to challenge the corporate vision. Although the seven-day strike certainly inconvenienced many parents, the Chicago Teachers Union won the battle for public opinion by framing its demands as concerns for smaller class sizes, more up-to-date textbooks and air conditioning in classrooms. They stood up to the bullying of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who consistently denigrated teachers and promote a corporate agenda of school privatization and business-style management, trying to weaken the teachers’ voices in school matters. As CTU’s feisty president Karen Lewis reminded Chicagoans, the strike wasn’t just about higher wages but also about the distribution of resources. “This education crisis is real, especially if you are Black or Brown in Chicago,” she explained. “They want to privatize public education and further disrupt our neighborhoods. There is an attack on public institutions, many of which serve low-income and working-class families. “The union won modest pay increases and some protection from district layoffs and firings, but also won a commitment to hire 600 new teachers in art, music and other ‘enrichment’ courses and got the school district to promise to hire more counselors, supply textbooks by the first day of school and include a parent representative on a class-size review committee. The union’s efforts helped build a coalition of parents, teachers and community activists that will continue to battle for better schools.
22. Challenging Citizens United. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010 – equating money with free speech – unleashed a flood of money from billionaires and corporations, much of it through hard-to-trace “super-PACs” and so-called “social welfare” organizations. In the wake of that ruling, Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock defended his state’s Corrupt Practices Act, which banned corporate campaign funds, all the way to the Supreme Court. The court overturned the Montana law 5 to 4, undermining the ability of states and cities to restrict corporations from trying to buy elections. Although Bullock lost that fight, Montanans admired his populist ideals and elected him governor in November. That same day, Montana voters also supported Initiative I-166, which endorsed a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, by a 74.8 percent margin. In Colorado, voters endorsed a similar ballot initiative, Proposition 65, with 73.8 percent of the vote. Voters in more than 120 cities and towns in Oregon, Colorado, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Massachusetts and California passed similar measures. Public opinion polls show that Americans overwhelmingly oppose Citizens United and believe that corporations, and corporate money, have too much influence in politics.
23. Beating the Billionaires. The US Chamber of Commerce, other big business lobby groups, and a strange assortment of right-wing billionaires (including the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson), poured or directed outrageous sums of money to help Romney and other conservative Republican candidates, but more often than not wound up losing. According to the Sunlight Foundation, outside groups spent more than $1.3 billion on independent expenditures to influence the outcome of the November elections, but had a terrible “return” on their investment. Much of the business and billionaire war chest was filtered through Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, which spent $104 million in election campaigns and had a 1.29 percent success rate. Its sister organization, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, also orchestrated by Rove, spent $70.7 million and had a 14.4 percent success rate. The US Chamber of Commerce spent $32.6 million for a success rate of 6.9 percent. The American Future Fund, run by the Koch brothers, spent $23.9 million but backed a winner in only 5.6 percent of the races. The National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund spent $11.8 million and had a tiny success rate of 0.83 percent – and that was before the NRA embarrassed itself with its call to post armed guards at public schools after 20 children and six adults were killed by a military-style assault weapon at an elementary school in Connecticut in December.
24. Killing the Death Penalty. The United States may be gradually moving toward joining every other democratic society in abolishing the death penalty. In 2012, Connecticut became the fifth state in the past five years to abolish the death penalty. Of the 33 states that still have the death penalty on their books, 13 haven’t executed anyone for at least five years. Nine states executed death-row inmates last year, but three quarters of the 43 executions took place in just four states: Texas (15), and Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma (each with six). Thanks to the Innocence Project and other advocates, a growing number of Americans recognize that the death penalty doesn’t deter crime. Death row is disproportionately comprised of poor and African Americans, an indication of the racial and class bias of our criminal justice system. The system is also arbitrary and prone to egregious mistakes. Since 1973, 142 death-row inmates have been freed after being exonerated with DNA evidence. As The New York Times recently editorialized in favor of ending the death penalty, the “justifications for a cruel and uncivilized punishment have been seriously undermined by a growing group of judges, prosecutors, scholars and others involved in criminal justice, conservatives and liberals alike.”
25. Muzzling the NRA. In 2011 (the most recent year for these figures) there were 15,953 murders in the United States and 11,101 (30 a day) were caused by firearms. Suicides and unintentional shootings account for another 20,000 deaths by guns each year. Many more people are injured – some seriously and permanently – by gun violence, disproportionately poor African Americans living in inner cities. At least seven mass killings occurred in 2012 – six died at an Oak Creek, Wis., Sikh temple when a white supremacist went on a rampage in August; four were killed in an Atlanta day spa in February; five were killed at a Seattle coffee shop in May; six died at a Minneapolis sign company in September; seven were gunned down at an Oakland religious college in April; and 12 were killed and 58 wounded in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater in July. But it may have required a mass shooting in a small suburban town in Connecticut – which killed 20 children and six adults – to make the epidemic of gun violence a national priority. The number of American households that own guns has actually declined in recent decades, from almost 50 percent in 1973 to just over 32 percent 2010. Less than five percent of gun owners are NRA members – probably concentrated among the 20 percent of gun owners who possess about 65 percent of the nation’s guns. And polls show that even before the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, most gun owners – even most NRA members – wanted stronger gun controls, including background checks on gun buyers and restrictions on the sale of military-style assault weapons. After the Connecticut killings, public opinion was even more favorable toward tough gun laws. The tragedy galvanized a broad coalition of faith groups, unions, community organizations, medical professionals, law enforcement officials and big-city mayors. They quickly brought people together for prayer vigils and rallies. But soon they will have to put pressure on Congress and shine a spotlight on the gun manufacturers, their Wall Street investors and gun retailers like Walmart (which sells 13 percent of all Bushmaster assault rifles) that profit from the proliferation of deadly assault weapons. Senator Diane Feinstein pledged to file strong legislation in 2013 and hold hearings that could provide a dramatic forum for advocates of tougher gun laws – including the survivors of gun violence, the families of victims, and gun owners who believe in sensible reforms – to tell their stories. The growing outrage against senseless gun deaths may finally translate into a sustained movement that can do battle with the NRA.
Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.
Big Pharma Bankrolled Pro-Trump Group As Trump Pushed Pharma Tax Cut
In 2017 the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America gave $2.5 million to America First Policies Inc. — a major dark money group supporting President Donald Trump’s political and economic agenda.
The major dark money group supporting President Donald Trump’s political and economic agenda raked in millions of dollars directly from the pharmaceutical industry’s main lobbying group — at the same time Trump backed off his position on a major drug issue and promoted a tax plan that was a windfall for the industry.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America gave $2.5 million to America First Policies in 2017, according to IRS documents. America First Policies was formed by former Trump advisers in 2017 and proudly touts itself as a pro-Trump organization. The PhRMA money represented more than 10 percent of America First Policies’ revenues in 2017, according to the group’s own IRS filings.
The IRS documents were obtained by MapLight, a nonpartisan group that tracks the influence of money in politics.
While campaigning for president, Trump pledged to take action to generally reduce drug prices and to allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription medications. He then appointed a former pharmaceutical executive to run the Department of Health and Human Services, and slammed the Medicare negotiation concept after a meeting with pharmaceutical executives.
“I’ll oppose anything that makes it harder for smaller, younger companies to take the risk of bringing their product to a vibrantly competitive market,” Trump said. “That includes price-fixing by the biggest dog in the market, Medicare.”
While Trump has moved to allow limited negotiation in some parts of Medicare, he has rejected the larger policy he campaigned on, leaving it out of his prescription drug proposal released earlier this year.
Trump also passed a tax cut that benefited the pharmaceutical industry, but that has not corresponded with a drop in prescription drug prices. America First Policies launched an ad campaign to promote those tax cuts, and spent the end of the 2018 campaign promoting them. PhRMA also gave $1.5 million to the American Action Network, which aired an ad campaign in support of the tax-cut legislation.
Copyright Capital & Main
ICE’s Stealth Campaign to Expand Its Budget
The new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives could pose a challenge to the agency’s chronic overspending — and to its aggressive detention and deportation policies.
In June the Dept. of Homeland Security asked Congress to allow it to transfer $200 million to ICE to cover agency overspending, continuing a pattern of such requests.
Big spending on immigration enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security promises to be a major sticking point as Congress prepares to negotiate a budget deal early next month.
Even though illegal immigration to the United States appears to be at its lowest point in 46 years, spending on immigration enforcement is at an all-time high. (The U.S. Border Patrol reported that in 2017, the last year for which statistics are available, apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border had dropped to 303,000, and had been declining nearly every year since 2000, when a record 1.6 million people were arrested.)
By overspending its congressional allocation, ICE is effectively writing its own budget.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detention operations exceeded the agency’s budget this year, while ICE spending on its vast system of immigration jails shows no sign of slowing.
But a newly elected Democratic majority in the House of Representatives could pose a challenge to the agency’s chronic overspending — and to its aggressive detention and deportation policies.
ICE jailed so many immigrants in 2018 that it ran out of space in its more than 200 lock-ups, and placed 1,600 people in medium-security prisons.
Congress set detention and deportation spending for 2018 at $4.4 billion, enough to detain some 40,520 people annually.
However, by June, 44,000 men and women languished in immigration detention, filling 4,000 more beds than Congress authorized. DHS asked Congress to allow it to transfer $200 million to ICE to cover agency overspending. The department plucked the funds from several of its agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration.
Critics of ICE say that by overspending its congressional allocation, the agency has engineered a stealth expansion of the U.S. detention system, effectively writing its own appropriation, and skirting the Constitution’s separation of powers in which Congress, not the executive branch, has the authority to set spending limits.
Congressman: “We shouldn’t be using FEMA as a piggy bank to fund detention beds.”
“It allows them to quickly expand the detention system contrary to congressional intent,” said Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center, a non-profit immigrant rights group.
Such intradepartmental funds transfers aren’t uncommon, but a congressional staffer who asked that his name not be used for this story said this one was controversial because nearly all of the money went to ICE for detention and deportation. ICE has received other big budget increases in the past two years. In March 2017, the agency got a $2.6 billion supplemental appropriation; three months later, ICE was back, requesting that Congress approve a $91 million funds transfer.
The $200 million June 2018 transfer, wrote DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman in an email, was “in line with the FY 2019 president’s budget request for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”
However, the additional funds covered FY 2018 overspending – not future shortfalls in 2019; Congress has yet to agree to a permanent fiscal year 2019 budget. Waldman didn’t answer an email asking to clarify her comments.
Congressional Staffer: Whenever ICE outspends its budget and adds detention beds, it gains leverage for the next round of budget negotiations.
The same congressional staffer who discussed the controversy surrounding the $200 million DHS funds transfer also noted that when ICE outspends its budget and adds detention beds, it gains leverage for the next round of budget negotiations because reducing beds would mean freeing detainees and, ICE argues, their release could jeopardize public safety.
Growth by funds transfer also generally avoids public scrutiny. Transfer documents submitted by government agencies are not released to the public. But earlier this year, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) released DHS’s June 2018 transfer and reprogramming request, noting that $10 million had been taken from FEMA just as Hurricane Florence was making landfall in North Carolina.
DHS shot back, claiming the funds were administrative and weren’t earmarked for hurricane relief. But according to Ur Jaddou, director of the advocacy group DHS Watch, and a former Chief Counsel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the DHS agency that oversees immigration and citizenship applications, “The government these days doesn’t operate on a plethora of administrative resources. It’s really functioning on a very limited budget. When they say they’re using unused money, it’s just a ruse.”
Congress has shown its frustration with ICE’s disregard for its authority, but hasn’t acted to rein in agency spending.
Congress has scolded ICE for its “lack of fiscal discipline and cavalier management.”
In budget recommendations for fiscal year 2019, the Senate Appropriations Committee wrote, “In light of the Committee’s persistent and growing concerns about ICE’s lack of fiscal discipline, whether real or manufactured, and its inability to manage detention resources…the Committee strongly discourages transfers or reprogramming requests to cover ICE’s excesses.”
Two years before, the explanatory language in the supplemental appropriations bill was even harsher. Appropriators pointed to a “lack of fiscal discipline and cavalier management” of detention funding, saying the agency seemed to think its detention operations were “funded by an indefinite appropriation. This belief is incorrect.”
“We shouldn’t be using FEMA as a piggy bank to fund detention beds,” said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD). “Unelected agency heads shouldn’t unilaterally shift taxpayer dollars for purposes they weren’t intended.”
Still, despite congressional annoyance with ICE’s free-spending ways, it hasn’t conducted meaningful oversight of the immigration detention system, said Greg Chen, director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
“The current leadership in Congress hasn’t been interested in conducting hearings on detention spending and whether detention is even necessary at the scale it is now,” Chen said.
When President Trump issued an executive order calling for no-holds-barred arrests of undocumented immigrants in January 2017, the border patrol reported that apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border were lower than at any time since 1972 — when the detention population was a fraction of its current size.
ICE reported that in fiscal year 2017, 41 percent of crimes of which detainees had been convicted were traffic- or immigration-related. Just 11.4 involved murder, sexual assault, kidnapping, robbery or assault.
Chen argued that ICE has a legal responsibility to screen each person in its custody for risk – either of flight or to public safety. “ICE is just not doing that and defaulting to the practice of detaining people.”
Democrats in Congress could take on a more robust role in overseeing ICE spending, now that they’ve gained a majority in the House. They could put conditions on spending, call for Government Accounting Office reports and hearings, cut funding, demand answers if ICE overspends and bring its actions to the attention of the press, said DHS Watch director Ur Jaddou, who is also a former congressional staffer.
“The next time they [ICE] need something,” Jaddou said, Congress can respond, ‘Do you really want it? You better listen.’”
Copyright Capital & Main
Will New York Fund Amazon Subsidies or Student Debt Relief?
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made headlines begging Amazon to site its second headquarters in the state. Now, however, prominent Democrats in the state Senate and Assembly have slammed the idea of offering taxpayer subsidies to the retail giant.
Co-published by Splinter
Elections have consequences, and they may have particularly immediate consequences for billionaire Jeff Bezos, as newly empowered New York Democrats appear to be positioning themselves to try to block new state subsidies for Amazon, now that the online retailing titan has chosen New York City and Northern Virginia as new headquarters locations.
A day before last week’s midterm elections, when Amazon’s choice was still up in the air, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made headlines begging Amazon to site its second headquarters in the state. “I’ll change my name to Amazon Cuomo if that’s what it takes,” said Cuomo, as reports surfaced about Amazon potentially moving in to Long Island City.
The next day, though, Democrats won control of the state Assembly and state Senate. Now, prominent Democrats in those chambers have slammed the idea of New York offering taxpayer subsidies to Amazon. And one lawmaker wants the legislature to decide between giving Amazon taxpayer largesse or addressing the state’s student debt crisis.
Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim announced that he will introduce legislation to slash New York’s economic development subsidies and use the money to buy up and cancel student debt — a move he said would provide a bigger boost to the state’s economy. The legislation, says Kim, would halt any Cuomo administration offer of taxpayer money to Amazon, which could reap up to $1 billion in tax incentives if it moves to Long Island City. The deal is a goodie bag for Amazon: It includes everything from a $325 million cash grant to a promise that taxpayers will help secure a helipad for Amazon executives.
“Giving Jeff Bezos hundreds of millions of dollars is an immoral waste of taxpayers’ money when it’s crystal clear that the money would create more jobs and more economic growth when it is used to relieve student debt,” said Kim, who recently published an op-ed with law professor Zephyr Teachout criticizing the Amazon deal. “Giving Amazon this type of corporate welfare is no different, if not worse, than Donald Trump giving trillions in corporate tax breaks at the federal level. There’s no correlation between healthy, sustainable job creation and corporate giveaways. If we used this money to cancel distressed student debt instead, there would be immediate positive GDP growth, job creation and impactful social-economic returns.”
New York has the most expensive set of corporate subsidy programs in the country, and a report by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research found that such subsidies “are not cost-effective, with either no statistically significant effects or large costs per job created.” Kim noted that in 2015 alone, New York gave out more than $8 billion in corporate incentives. He pointed to a recent study by the Levy Institute that found cancelling student debt would result “in an increase in real GDP [and] a decrease in the average unemployment rate.”
In New York, student debt has ballooned. A 2016 report by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office found that “the delinquency rate among New York student loan borrowers rose by more than a third over the past decade while average borrower balances in the State increased by nearly 48 percent, to $32,200.” A memo outlining Kim’s bill says the legislation would empower New York officials to “exercise their eminent domain powers to buy, cancel, and/or monetize the state’s out of control student debt,” which the memo says totals more than $82 billion.
Kim’s move followed criticism of a possible Amazon deal by Senator Michael Gianaris, who led Democrats’ successful effort to win control of the chamber, and who is expected to be in one of the Senate’s top jobs.
“Offering massive corporate welfare from scarce public resources to one of the wealthiest corporations in the world at a time of great need in our state is just wrong,” Gianaris and City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, both of whom represent Long Island City, said in a press release. “The burden should not be on the 99 percent to prove we are worthy of the one percent’s presence in our communities, but rather on Amazon to prove it would be a responsible corporate neighbor.”
Copyright Capital & Main
7 Takeaways from California’s Elections
Two of the biggest shockers happened in Los Angeles and Orange counties, in races that have historically drawn the most conservative voters: sheriff and district attorney.
Official voting results are weeks away from getting verified for the 2018 general election, but big, historic trends are already emerging: some old, some new, some bad — and a lot of Blue.
1. Real estate interests prove again that they’re some of the evilest people in California history
The people who helped to bring to the Golden State housing covenants, redlining, Proposition 13, the overturning of the Rumford Fair Housing Act, McMansions in canyons that always burn and so much more housing nastiness were on the wrong side of history again this election cycle. They spent at least $74 million to demonize Proposition 10—which would only allow municipalities the right to consider rent control—to the point where even renters felt it was a nefarious plot to destroy property values and bankrupt elderly landlords. Unsurprisingly, Prop. 10 lost by a nearly two-thirds majority, and real estate special-interests groups will spend even more if another such measure ever goes statewide again.
2. The Democrats’ next big battleground will be the Central Valley
Most of the Dems’ millions were spent on flipping Orange County blue, but as I wrote for the Los Angeles Times recently, the Democrats can learn a lot for 2020 by what’s happening in the Central Valley. There, Latino candidates have climbed the political ladder from school board seats to a majority of the Valley’s state Assembly and state Senate seats, flipping two of the latter with Latinas (Anna Caballero in the 12th, Melissa Hurtado in the 14th) on Tuesday. What they yet don’t have is one of the congressional seats held by the region’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: David Valadao, Jeff Denham, Kevin McCarthy and Devin Nunes, all whom won their races this time around (although Denham is still sweating his out). Expect the Dems to groom some rising stars for 2020—and expect them to mine data from the Valley about how to attract rural voters.
3. People in Southern California mistrust law enforcement more than ever before
Two of the biggest shockers happened around elected positions that have historically drawn the most conservative voters: sheriff and district attorney. In Orange County, Supervisor Todd Spitzer handily beat 20-year incumbent DA Tony Rackauckas, who has been dogged by a jailhouse snitch scandal for years. But even more surprising was the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s race, where Jim McConnell—supported by virtually the entire L.A. political class—lost to former deputy Alex Villanueva. Villanueva will be the first Democratic sheriff in more than 100 years.
4. Los Alamitos is now unofficially Southern California’s City of Hate
The tiny northwest Orange County town made news earlier this year when the city council decided to pass an ordinance protesting California’s sanctuary state law. The councilman who pushed that resolution, Warren Kusumoto, was reelected this week. But also winning a seat was former councilmember Dean Grose, who made national headlines in 2009 when he emailed a racist cartoon of a watermelon patch growing outside the Obama White House.
5. AIDS Healthcare Foundation needs to stop wasting money on propositions
The nonprofit giant spent over $23 million on the Yes on 10 battle, two years after spending $4.5 million on Proposition 60 to mandate condoms on adult films sets in California and more than $14 million on Proposition 61 to regulate prescription drugs bought by the state. Last year, it spent $5.5 million on Measure S, an anti-development ordinance in Los Angeles. All that money went to nothing, as each measure lost handily. Maybe AIDS Healthcare Foundation head Michael Weinstein should’ve spent that $47 million on services?
6. The California GOP’s last, best hope are Asians
The party has long been dead in the state, but a glimmer of hope has emerged for it in Orange County. Asian-American Republicans there now hold one congressional and state Senate seat, two state Assembly spots, three of the five chairs on the Board of Supervisors, and multiple school board and city council positions. And the new mayor of Anaheim, Orange County’s largest city, is Indian-American Harry Sidhu. Leave it to Orange County to get minorities to side with the Party of Trump!
7. With five of seven congressional seats now Democrat, this ain’t your dad’s Orange County anymore
It’s not even your Orange County. A brave new OC awaits all of us, indeed….
Copyright Capital & Main
Why Was Climate Change Omitted From Colorado’s Debate Over Fracking?
Co-published by Westword
The total absence of climate change discussion in Colorado’s 2018 election was striking, considering the state’s intensified floods, droughts and wildfires.
Over eight debates between gubernatorial candidates Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton, Colorado’s press corps mustered just three questions about climate change.
Co-published by Westword
It is no overstatement to say that Colorado’s Proposition 112 and Amendment 74 were two of the most significant and far-reaching climate change measures in America’s entire midterm election. But don’t blame yourself if you didn’t know that. While the initiatives sparked a pitched battle about the fossil fuel industry just as scientists were issuing a dire warning about climate change, that term — “climate change” — was largely absent from the state’s political conversation in 2018, even though some local officials say climate change could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in the near future.
While Colorado’s oil and gas industry was asserting that burning carbon-emitting fracked gas is “helping to reduce carbon emissions,” it sponsored an anonymous website attacking journalists who report on energy and climate issues.
Oil and gas corporations spent roughly $40 million to oppose 112, which would have mandated larger distances between fossil fuel extraction sites and schools, hospitals and residential neighborhoods, and likely restricted some fossil fuel development. Some of that money also went into promoting 74, which would have empowered those same oil and gas companies to sue towns that try to restrict drilling and fracking. While the industry offered a smorgasbord of arguments in its campaign — it would defund schools, it would kill jobs, etc. — those criticisms were all based on one central premise: that the setbacks measure would allegedly ban all new oil and gas exploration.
Had climate change been a central topic of conversation, that assertion could have boomeranged on the industry — proponents could have argued that an all-out ban was in fact urgently needed in light of a recent United Nations report warning of a full-fledged dystopia if new fossil fuel development is not halted. And they might have found a receptive audience: Recent polling from the University of Colorado has shown that 70 percent of Coloradans say they are at least somewhat concerned about climate change — and that survey was done before a summer of climate-change-intensified wildfires.
Even though Prop. 112 was not a total ban on fossil fuel extraction, at least a few national voices noted that it represented an important front in the climate change battle.
However, the Colorado press corps barely mentioned climate change in its coverage of the fight, and groups pushing the proposition never made climate change a central argument in their campaign.
An analysis by Media Matters found that out of 12 Colorado newspaper editorials about 112, just one — that of the Boulder Daily Camera, which endorsed the measure — even mentioned climate change. News coverage of 112 focused alternately on the health and environmental hazards highlighted by activists and industry doomsaying about its economic and budgetary implications, but reporting on fossil fuel-related carbon emissions and their contribution to climate change was almost nonexistent.
That was true not only of the fight over 112, but of the state’s wider political discourse. Over eight debates between governor-elect Jared Polis and opponent Walker Stapleton, the Colorado press corps mustered just three questions about climate change, accounting for less than 10 minutes of discussion during eight and a half hours of debate.
Meanwhile, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association was sponsoring an anonymous website attacking journalists who report on energy and climate issues. And as a backup measure to defang any potential climate arguments, the industry also ramped up its production of promotional PR asserting that burning carbon-emitting fracked gas is “helping to reduce carbon emissions,” as COGA insists. That assertion relies on the public never realizing that it’s only true in comparison to burning coal, but not actually true overall: Natural gas is a fossil fuel, so carbon is emitted when it is burned — no matter what COGA tries to insinuate.
The defeat of an explicitly climate-related ballot measure in Washington State suggests that many voters are not willing to support even modest efforts to frontally address climate change.
That context, though, is rarely noted in a political arena that has long been dominated by armies of fossil fuel lobbyists and millions of dollars of fossil fuel campaign spending. This year, much of that money was spent on ads designed to narrow the debate to one primarily about jobs and economic impact, thereby precluding 112 campaigners from broadening the conversation to one about the climate change dangers of fossil fuel extraction. Colorado Rising, the group behind Proposition 112, was boxed into making arguments only about better protecting the public health and safety of those living near fracking rigs, and to defensively insist that the measure wasn’t an actual ban.
In a media environment that was already erasing climate change from the conversation, there was no space for them to more straightforwardly argue that dramatic reductions in fossil fuel extraction are necessary to address climate change.
“What the polling is showing is that if people are really convinced that it’s an outright ban, they aren’t going to vote for it,” Colorado Rising’s Anne Lee Foster told Capital & Main when asked why climate change wasn’t a more prominent part of the campaign. “It’s not about what the actual percentage [ban] is, it’s proving that they have been blowing this out of proportion the whole time.”
At times, 112’s proponents ended up publicly asserting that the measure would not significantly reduce fossil fuel extraction at all, even as climate scientists argue that’s exactly what’s necessary.
“The oil and gas folks out there will still be able to do their thing,” said Mark Williams, a former Democratic congressional candidate, at a Longmont town hall where he promoted 112. “My concern is you have all these operators that are out there that are trying to make a quick buck, [but] Colorado does not have strong enough regulations.”
There’s no guarantee 112 would have been more successful had the proponents tried to focus the fight on climate change; the oil and gas industry’s success in defeating an explicitly climate-related ballot measure in Washington State suggests that many voters are not willing to support even modest efforts to frontally address climate change.
However, the total absence of the issue in Colorado’s 2018 election was striking, considering not only the IPCC report, but also the state’s own specific struggles with the effects of climate change. After all, leading scientists say that climate change is already intensifying Colorado’s floods, droughts and wildfires. And although COGA has demanded that “natural gas must be part of the climate change conversation,” many of those scientists disagree.
“There is more than enough carbon in the world’s already developed, operating oil, gas, and coal fields globally to exceed 2°C,” wrote a group of 26 climate scientists in a July letter to California Governor Jerry Brown, urging him to immediately halt the approval of all new oil and gas drilling. “There is simply no room in the carbon budget for any new fossil fuel extraction.”
“Absolutely no new fossil fuel developments. None,” said climate scientist Will Steffen, when asked earlier this year what the U.S. needs to do to help avoid global catastrophe. “That means no new coal mines, no new oil wells, no new gas fields, no new unconventional gas fracking. Nothing new.”
This is why even though 112 was not a total ban on fossil fuel extraction, at least a few national voices noted that its potential to somewhat reduce that extraction represented an important front in the climate change battle.
In a guest column for the Denver Post, former NASA scientist James Hansen encouraged Coloradans to vote for 112 because it would “help prevent climate change by making oil and gas harder to access.” Senator Bernie Sanders, who has called for a nationwide ban on fracking, also endorsed the measure on climate-related grounds. And toward the end of the campaign, 350.org founder Bill McKibben promoted the measure as part of his organization’s nationwide push to combat climate change.
But by that point, the industry’s PR machine was already skilled at suppressing any discussion of climate change and transforming every 112 argument into economic alarmism. An editorial in oil magnate Phil Anschutz’s Colorado Springs Gazette was emblematic: In attacking McKibben, it didn’t even bother to mention climate change, much less address his substantive argument.
Instead, its headline simply screamed, “Out-of-stater comes to kill Colorado jobs.”
Copyright Capital & Main
CA-49: A GOP District Realigns With Democrats After Mike Levin Victory
Republican Diane Harkey ended her dispirited campaign by attempting to distance herself from Trump’s personality but supporting him on “substance.”
Was the victory of Democrat Mike Levin in the 49th Congressional District race a decisive one? It seems so. Levin’s roughly seven point victory over Republican Diane Harkey might make newcomers to the district – running from southern Orange County down the coast to northern San Diego – wonder how Republicans have dominated that stretch of California for so long.
Demographic shifts explain part of what happened. Educated high-tech workers have moved into the area, and Levin targeted Latinos and women in this “year of the woman.” Levin was also blessed with a weak opponent plagued by her husband’s financial scandals.
But perhaps something beyond political math was also taking place. Decades ago political scientist Walter Dean Burnham worried that American political parties had deteriorated to such an extent that they could not deal with critical national and international issues. Burnham lamented the decline in voting participation, particularly among the lower classes, and trained his analytical eye on “realignment” elections that led to durable shifts in political coalitions and public policy. The results in the 49th district could be such a realignment where a general political crisis can force a breakthrough and renewal.
One sign of how much has changed in the 49th is that Levin brought Bernie Sanders to campaign with him in the final week of the campaign, a risk in what most political observers regard as a “centrist” district. Sander’s message denouncing the state of our health care system and the cost of higher education is neither scary nor politically costly when it resonates with the realities of so many people’s lives.
Harkey ended her dispirited campaign by attempting to distance herself from Trump’s personality but supporting him on “substance,” meaning the “booming” economy she said he created.
For many voters, the “substance” now is their aesthetic and existential disgust at how President Trump is attempting to re-create our country.
The current battle may lead to the rebuilding of a political force on the progressive side that is able to fight more effectively by forging broader, more sustainable coalitions. That rebuilding is certainly under way in the 49th Congressional District.
Copyright Capital & Main
Proposition 11: Emergency Crews Lose Out
Framing Prop. 11 as necessary to protect public safety was a strong argument, but it didn’t help that the opposition failed to file paperwork in time to have their arguments against the measure included in the state’s voter guide.
Proposition 11, which rewrites California’s Labor Code to allow private ambulance companies to require paramedics and EMTs to be on call during breaks, cruised to an easy victory on election night, with 60 percent voter support. The result wasn’t surprising; polling showed the measure was leading by a two-to-one margin. Prop. 11’s primary supporter, private ambulance company American Medical Response, vastly outspent the opposition, pouring $22 million into the campaign to argue that response times to emergencies would increase if the measure were defeated.
The proposition came in the wake of a 2016 California Supreme Court ruling that private security guards are required to be given uninterrupted rest breaks. That ruling likely would apply to the state’s private sector EMTs and paramedics, who are also on call during breaks, and who have filed several lawsuits challenging the practice, including one against AMR. Last year, a legislative attempt to solve the problem stalled in the face of AMR opposition; one of the sticking points was whether the bill would protect AMR from active lawsuits. (As written, Prop. 11 shields AMR from liability regarding breaks in pending litigation.)
Framing Prop. 11 as necessary to protect public safety was a strong argument, but it didn’t help that the opposition, led by the United EMS Workers, an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local, failed to file paperwork in time to have its arguments against the measure included in the state’s voter guide. (Disclosure: AFSCME is a financial supporter of this website.) AMR largely drowned out the local’s attempts to highlight the grueling working conditions faced by emergency workers, and the need for extra staffing to allow more predictable breaks.
What remains to be seen is whether Prop. 11 will in fact shield AMR and other private ambulance companies from pending lawsuits, a decision likely to be determined in court. Jason Brollini, president-executive director of United EMS Workers, estimates that AMR could owe workers as much as $100 million in settlements if the cases are allowed to proceed.
Copyright Capital & Main
CA-25: Katie Hill Ends Knight Reign in Changing District
While Hill’s youth, bisexuality and comfortably modern persona got the attention of Vice and other media, Steve Knight was seemingly out of touch with his own constituents.
Katie Hill went to bed last night at the end of an excruciatingly tight congressional race, not knowing if her home district was red or blue. At stake was California’s 25th District, where Hill spent the last 18 months on an unlikely quest to unseat two-term GOP Rep. Steve Knight. By six this morning, Hill, a 31-year-old first-time candidate, appeared to have won by more than 4,000 votes.
The seat was among several Republican-held offices targeted by the Democratic Party, in districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, but it was never going to be easy. CA-25 had been in Republican hands since 1993, representing territory stretching from northern Los Angeles County to parts of Ventura County. It may have been tilting from red to purple, but Hill wisely shaped her campaign to the immediate kitchen-table interests of the district, and avoided all discussion of presidential impeachment, Russia or special counsel Robert Mueller.
“We’re not running an anti-Trump campaign,” Hill told Capital & Main early in the campaign. “I just don’t think that’s the issue that people care the most about here.”
Hill grew up in the tiny district town of Rosamond and, later, in Santa Clarita, and now resides in rural Agua Dulce. She was a cop’s daughter running against former LAPD officer Knight. Hill began her campaign after working eight years at PATH, one of the largest homeless services providers in California. Growing homelessness in CA-25 was one of her core concerns, along with health care and economic opportunity.
While her youth, bisexuality and comfortably modern persona got the attention of Vice and other media, Knight was seemingly out of touch with his own constituents, many of whom commuted daily to Los Angeles. He was on record as supporting legislation banning gay marriage and voted with President Trump 99 percent of the time, including the failed attempt to eliminate the Affordable Care Act. If her lead holds through the week’s final ballot count, Hill will join an unprecedented wave of women elected to Congress and presumably will take a new and far different path than Knight.
Capital & Main
CA-10: AP Calls Election for Josh Harder Over Republican Incumbent
Four-term Central Valley Congressman Jeff Denham appears to have been defeated after a week of ballot counting.
UPDATE, Nov. 13: The Associated Press tonight has declared Democratic challenger Josh Harder to be the winner over GOP incumbent Jeff Denham in the hard-fought 10th District race. According to AP, “With votes continuing to be counted, Harder’s edge has grown after Denham grabbed a slim lead on Election Day. After the latest update, Harder had a 4,919-vote lead out of about 185,000 votes counted, a margin too large for the congressman to overcome with remaining votes.”
A TV ad
A TV adfor incumbent Republican Congressman Jeff Denham stated that his Democratic challenger Josh Harder “shares Nancy Pelosi’s liberal San Francisco values.” The ad, running in the Sacramento media market and on digital platforms throughout California’s 10th District, went on to state that Harder, if victorious, would leave residents of this Central Valley district with dramatically worse health care options.
It was a puzzling claim, considering Denham voted with his party to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, several times, and voted for the Republican replacement, the unpopular American Health Care Act.
As of Wednesday morning, Jeff Denham clung to a lead of 50.6 percent of the vote, with Harder claiming 49.4 percent. While 100 percent of precincts had reported, the race had not been called, pending the counting of mail-in and provisional ballots. Democratic activists said enthusiasm and campaign cash were up. Harder raised more than $7 million in this cycle to Denham’s $4.4 million.
Back in February, most of the volunteer canvassers trying to boost Democratic registration in Modesto, the heart of the district, were from the Bay Area. They said they had driven east to turn this purplish district solid blue. CA-10, which voted for Hillary Clinton by three points in 2016 while giving Denham a similar margin of victory, was one of the top Democratic targets for flipping in 2018.
Whether Denham or Harder end up winning, the trend of people relocating from the pricey Bay Area could end up re-shaping the electorate in the district. New research from BuildZoom and the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley shows a growing connection between the Bay Area and its neighbor to the east, CA-10. “More than 55 percent of Bay Area out-migrants in households earning less than $50,000 a year stayed in California, [heading to] more affordable markets, such as the Sacramento region or Central Valley metro areas, like Modesto or Fresno,” the study said.
Copyright Capital & Main
CA-21: TJ Cox Reverses Tally to Declare Victory
Throughout the campaign, Cox was on the offensive, blasting the GOP incumbent’s votes for the unpopular Republican tax reform bill, and the even more unpopular American Health Care Act (ACHA) or “Trumpcare.”
UPDATED November 28: Late ballot counting continues to show Democratic Party candidate TJ Cox with a slight lead (currently 506 votes) over GOP incumbent David Valadao. Cox has declared victory. The following story was written when election-night returns showed Valadao ahead by 4,400 votes.
California’s 21st District seemed like a plausible target to flip from red to blue in 2018 even though incumbent Republican Congressman David Valadao had beaten his Democratic challenger Emelio Huerta by 13 points in 2016. Hillary Clinton handily carried the district, and the demographics also looked good for a Democrat. The district is 71 percent Latino, a group that gave Clinton 66 percent of its vote nationwide two years ago. Republicans account for 27 percent of registered voters in CA-21, 16 points lower than Democratic registration. According to the political forecasting site FiveThirtyEight, Valadao voted with Trump policies nearly 99 percent of the time.
Despite those headwinds for Valadao, and visits from Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Democratic challenger TJ Cox fell far short. By early Wednesday, Valadao claimed 53.7 percent of the vote to 46.3 percent for Cox with provisional and mail-in ballots still to be counted.
Throughout the campaign, Cox was on the offensive, blasting Valadao’s votes for the unpopular Republican tax reform bill, and the even more unpopular American Health Care Act (ACHA) or “Trumpcare.”
Valadao claimed the Republican tax plan saved families thousands of dollars in a district with a far lower median household income than California as a whole. He also touted his willingness to break from Trump in a failed attempt at immigration reform earlier this year.
Valadao’s strong ties to the district may have given him an advantage. A dairy farmer, small-business owner and son of Portuguese immigrants, Valadao grew up in the district, and has given unwavering support to agribusiness interests, a very important position in this largely agricultural region. Cox, an engineer who has never held elected office, owns a home just outside the district in Fresno and earlier in the election cycle claimed a home in suburban Washington, D.C. as his principal residence.
Capital & Main
Los Angeles and Oakland Teachers Rally Amid Deadlocked Contract Talks
Report: IRS Enforcement Could Reap Billions in Unpaid Revenue
Resistance in the Heartland: Fighting ICE in Small-Town Iowa and Nebraska
Behind Kaiser’s Mental Health Breakdown
Diane Ravitch on Gavin Newsom’s Three Education Challenges
Big Pharma Bankrolled Pro-Trump Group As Trump Pushed Pharma Tax Cut
Great Expectations: California’s First Steps Toward Universal Health Care
Is a New Toxic Danger Threatening California?
10 Inequality Takeaways
The Golden State’s Fight Against Economic Inequality
Central American Caravan: Militia Members Head for the Border
Video: Rising Rents Force a Choice Between Eating or Shelter
A Law Ending Cash Bail Gives Judges Enormous Power Over Defendants
Video: Los Angeles Rejects Spy Program
Video: Make California Hate Again
- Labor & EconomyAugust 29, 2018
Ohio, NJ and California Pension Funds Invested $885 Million in Hedge Fund That Controls National Enquirer Parent
- Charter School DonorsNovember 1, 2018
Reed Hastings: Netflix CEO Goes Nuclear on Public Schools
- Labor & EconomyDecember 20, 2017
How a Reporter Got a Corker of a Scoop About the GOP’s Tax Bill
- Labor & EconomyJanuary 11, 2018
The Most Successful Union Organizer in America Thinks Traditional Organizing Is a Lost Cause
- Labor & EconomyJuly 10, 2018
The ‘Amazon Tax’ Ruling: Disrupting the Disruptors?
- Deadly DetentionMarch 14, 2018
DEADLY DETENTIONS: MAPPING DEATH
- SocietyMarch 6, 2018
Two Years of Official Silence Since a Controversial Inglewood Police Shooting
- Battery BloodMarch 21, 2018
Battery Blood: How California Health Agencies Failed Exide Workers