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In Chicago, the democracy equation is “50-plus-1.”
If Rahm Emanuel wins the majority of the vote in a five-way mayoral contest on February 24, the Democrat who always seems to be at odds with his party’s base will secure a second term as mayor of the nation’s third-most-populous city. That, in turn, would position the corporate-friendly Emanuel—“Mayor 1%”—an even more influential figure in the “Not Elizabeth Warren Wing of the Democratic Party.”
To avoid an April 7 general election race with the second-place finisher in the multi-candidate field, Emanuel needs his “50-plus-one”: a total vote that is at least one above the 50 percent line. The same goes for city council races, where labor unions and progressive groups are challenging Emanuel’s allies.
It is expected that a number of council races will go to April 7 runoffs—and the competition could be intense, as Emanuel and his allies seek to knock off members of the council’s Progressive Caucus, while labor groups such as the Chicago Teachers Union and National Nurses United make the case for electing more progressives. National groups such as Democracy for America have weighed in on behalf of progressive alders such as John Arena, with DFA national chair Jim Dean declaring, “Each successfully re-elected progressive Alderman will send a strong message to Rahm Emanuel and leaders across America that progressives reject the agenda of privatization, public school closings, and stagnant wages for working families. We will demonstrate that progressives are ready to fight for an economy that works for everyone—and that we will defend those elected officials who stand with us.”
The unsettled question is whether the mayoral race will go to a runoff, and in so doing provide a marquee contest that frames the debate and drives turnout up and down the ballot on April 7.
Emanuel is doing everything in his power to avert that prospect. And he has a lot in his power. The mayor has millions in the bank—the Chicago Sun Times recently reported on “the nearly $30 million amassed (in recent years) by: the mayor’s campaign committee; a second campaign fund he controls; and a super PAC that supports Emanuel and aldermanic candidates he backs.” His financial advantage is so enormous that it easily trumps the combined resources of his many rivals and their allies. All that money from financial interests, law firms and developers has paid for Emanuel’s omnipresent campaign commercials, which cost a fortune in one of the nation’s most expensive media markets, and are, in the words of the Chicago Tribune, “dominating the TV airwaves.”
Emanuel also has a muscular electoral operation and a reputation for bare-knuckles political brawling that frightens foes into submission. He has close ties with national Democratic leaders, including President Obama, who was set to appear at Emanuel’s side in Chicago just days before the election.
As the current campaign took shape, Emanuel’s poll numbers were weak. But all that spending and all those connections count for something. A new Tribune poll puts the incumbent at 45 percent “just shy of the 50 percent-plus-one-vote benchmark.”
In second-place is Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who seems to be emerging as the candidate best positioned to face the mayor in an April runoff. With enthusiastic backing from the Chicago Teachers Union and a number of other labor and progressive groups, Garcia has moved ahead of Emanuel’s other challengers to position at 20 percent. Businessman Willie Wilson is at 7 percent in the poll, as is Chicago Alderman Robert Fioretti. William “Dock” Walls III, a former aide to the late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, trails with 2 percent. Eighteen percent of prospective voters were undecided.
The mayor just needs a small portion of the undecided to get above 50 percent.
As for Garcia, he needs to finish second. But he also needs the rest of the pack to get enough votes so that Emanuel doesn’t get his “50-plus-1.” Chicago Reader writer Ben Joravsky summed things up well in a pre-election piece—“An editorial endorsement for… anyone but Rahm!”—in which he explained: “Think about this, people. Every vote against Mayor Rahm increases the number of votes he needs to get more than 50 percent.”
For months, Garcia and Fioretti have pitched themselves as the strongest potential challengers to Emanuel. Both have records as allies of organized labor—siding with unions that have frequently battled the mayor on behalf of public education, public services and protections for workers. Fioretti, a lawyer, has been among the loudest progressive critics of Emanuel on the council; and his current campaign has highlighted support for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and impressive proposals for promoting worker-owned cooperatives as a tool for urban revitalization.
But Garcia has secured key endorsements from prominent progressives in a city where activists are always on the watch for candidates who can pull together diverse coalitions to take on entrenched political and economic interests.
Cook County Clerk David Orr, a key ally of former Mayor Washington in the great political struggles of the 1980s between reformers and the old Democratic political machine, was an early and ardent Garcia backer. “If you’re going to have a real democracy, or at least a representative form of government, you’ve got to bring the stakeholders in.… [Garcia] believes in that,” says Orr. “No offense to Rahm, but Rahm doesn’t believe in that. Rahm believes in telling everyone what to do and [yelling] at them when they don’t do it.”
Garcia also has the backing of Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, a high-profile critic of the mayor who has earned broad recognition and support as she and the CTU have battled school cuts and closures. Lewis explored a mayoral bid last year, before she was hospitalized with a brain tumor. That took her out of the running last fall and she quickly endorsed Garcia. Now, after surgery and chemotherapy, Lewis has returned to the fray as an outspoken backer of the challenger.
“We need a change, and it couldn’t be me, so I talked to Chuy and I had to twist his arm a little bit but he was ready for it,” says the union leader, who refers to Garcia as “a consensus builder and a man of the people [who] will work for all of our citizens—not just the corporate elites and special interests who seek to privatize our public assets.”
Garcia is running on a broadly progressive program—as are several of the other challengers. For his part, the county commissioner is ready to pick a fight with Emanuel on education and democracy issues.
“We are the only school district in the state with an appointed, not an elected, school board, thanks to state legislation passed in 1995—which I voted against as state legislator,” says Garcia, a former state senator. “It is that same appointed board that closed our schools and cut the education budget, following Mayor Emanuel’s orders. Would this have happened with an elected board, responsible to the citizens?”
Garcia frames the issue as “a question of constitutional rights and civil liberties: the right to elect those who govern an institution so vital to our city. School systems are perhaps the main governmental bodies touching the lives of a majority of our citizens. That’s why I believe an elected school board is a constitutional right.”
As one of his first acts as mayor, Garcia says he would ask the legislature to revoke mayoral control and allow for an elected school board. “Lacking action in the legislature,” he adds, “I will file a federal voting-rights lawsuit based on the Constitution and civil rights laws.”
Those are bold promises that excite CTU members and community activists, and that would instantly make Garcia a leader in the struggle to renew urban schools after years of assaults by Emanuel and others—including wealthy backers of cuts, closures, rigid standardized-testing schemes, vouchers, so-called “choice” initiatives and privatization.
Simply to have the debate would be dramatic for Chicago, which has not seen a mayoral runoff since it shifted to the nonpartisan system in the 1990s. Emanuel won it all in February, 2011. He’s spending heavily—nearly $1 million for TV ads in the last week of the campaign—to win it all once more in February, 2015. That would shut the debate down at the mayoral level and free Emanuel up to steer his considerable energies and considerable resources into securing a City Council super-majority that would rubber-stamp his every demand.
Read Next: John Nichols on Barbara Lee’s opposition to war
Barbara Lee wants Congress is get serious about issues of war and peace.
The California congresswoman who cast the sole vote against authorizing George W. Bush to wage an ill-defined “war on terror” has been the House’s most consistent advocate for greater congressional engagement in debates about US foreign policy—and for seeking smart and comprehensive alternatives to endless war. In this pursuit, Lee has been willing to criticize Republican and Democratic administrations that seek blank checks from Congress. And she has often developed bipartisan coalitions to demand accountability from presidents and the Pentagon.
Lee is pleased that President Obama has come to Congress seeking a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) for the fight with Islamic State (ISIL), as she has for years complained about the failure of the White House to bring Congress into the deliberations about questions of war and peace.
But she is not satisfied with what Obama is proposing.
“I have serious concerns about the proposed authorization’s overly broad language and lack of geographic or other limitations,” says Lee. “Most importantly, I am deeply concerned about the lack of repeal language for the 2001 AUMF, which has been and would remain a blank check for endless war.”
“For far too long,” adds the California Democrat, “our nation has been engaged in perpetual war. It is past time for Congress to re-establish the checks and balances laid out in our Constitution.”
This is not just about declarations of war and authorizations of the use of force. This goes deeper.
“We can all agree that ISIL and their actions are horrific and barbaric. As we work to degrade and dismantle ISIL, we must be comprehensive in our strategy. National security experts have clearly stated that there is no military solution to ISIL,” explains Lee, who in 2013 was nominated by President Obama to serve as a representative of the United States to the Sixty-eighth Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. “In order to ultimately degrade and dismantle ISIL, we must craft a robust regionally-led, political, economic and diplomatic strategy.
To that end, Lee and Congressman Mike Honda, D-California, have introduced legislation that would—within ninety days of its passage—require President Obama to submit to Congress a “comprehensive diplomatic, political, economic and regionally-led strategy to degrade and dismantle” ISIL. (The measure has attracted a number of co-sponsors, including the senior Democrat in the House, Michigan’s John Conyers, as well as the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva, and Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison. Among the other co-sponsors are Congressman Alan Grayson, D-Florida, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, and Congressman Richard Nolan, D-Minnesota.)
“It would be a tremendous error for our Congress to finally debate a long overdue authorization for the ongoing war against ISIL and neglect the important non-military options that comprise a comprehensive solution,” explains Lee. “While this legislation prevents the deployment of US ground troops, it does not close the door for military action. Congress will have to debate and vote on any authorization for the use of force. Any comprehensive strategy must address the underlying political, economic and diplomatic elements that have contributed to ISIL.”
The approach proposed by Lee and Honda has drawn praise from observers who recognize that the smart response to what is happening in Iraq and Syria must involve more than another ill-defined AUMF.
Robert Naiman, the policy director of Just Foreign Policy, hailed Lee for focusing on the role of the United Nations in general, and in particular on “her efforts to ensure full implementation of UN resolutions calling for UN member states to act to stop the flow of foreign fighters and foreign financing to support ISIL.”
“We are encouraged that a Member of Congress has stepped forward to boldly state that our endless war is not working,” adds Diane Randall, the executive secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation. “As the only Member who voted against the AUMF in 2001, Rep. Lee’s leadership in now proposing a repeal of that blank check for war is offering instead the political and diplomatic solutions to the crises our failed policies helped create.”
Read Next: John Nichols on the Illinois Ggovernor’s war on workers
chicago—Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has declared war on workers and their unions—and, by extension, on fair wages and the prospects for economic advancement in his state. The newly elected executive is proposing “right-to-work” (for less) experiments that would undermine private-sector unions while he bullies state officials to help him weaken public-sector unions.
This is the new normal for Republican governors in much of the Midwest. In addition to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s ongoing assaults on collective bargaining rights, Republican governors in Michigan and Indiana have pushed through right-to-work schemes that are designed to make it harder for unions to organize, build strength and bargain on behalf of family-supporting wages. Ohio Governor John Kasich and his legislative tried to implement a Walker-style assault on public-sector unions in his state, but the voters rejected his proposal in a referendum made possible by a provision that allows that state’s citizens to overturn unpopular and unnecessary legislation.
Rauner makes no secret of the fact that he would like to be the Scott Walker of Illinois.
Rauner critics such as Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis refer to the newly elected governor as “Walker on steroids,” while veteran Chicago political consultant and commentator Don Rose has described the Illinois Republican as “horrifically and historically anti-union.” Rauner gave rise to those assessments during a free-spending 2014 gubernatorial campaign in which he floated (and then abandoned) the idea of reducing or even eliminating the minimum wage, blamed public-sector unions and their members for the state’s fiscal woes and hailed Walker—who is now preparing a labor-bashing bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nod—as a role model.
But what if Rauner isn’t a Walker? What if Rauner’s a Kasich?
What if the Illinoisan gets tripped up by the voters—or, to be more precise, by the fear even among his fellow Republicans that voters do not approve of union bashing?
When Rauner issued an executive order blocking the collection of “fair share” dues by public employees who are represented by unions but do not choose to formally join them, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 executive director Roberta Lynch ripped the order as “a paper-thin excuse that can’t hide his real agenda: silencing working people and their unions who stand up for the middle class.”
Lynch also ripped Rauner’s move as “a blatantly illegal abuse of power,” while Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery described it as “an abuse of power and the democratic process.”
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan agreed, determining that the dues need to be collected, “As the law stands now, ‘fair share’ dues are constitutional,” her office announced. “The comptroller needs to follow the law.”
The comptroller is responsible for maintaining the financial accounts of the state of Illinois, and for ordering payments from them. Like the attorney general, the comptroller is elected statewide.
What distinguishes Attorney General Madigan from Comptroller Leslie Munger is that Madigan is a Democrat, while Munger is a Republican. Yet, though she was appointed by the governor last month to fill a vacancy, Munger has sided with Madigan in the dues dispute—announcing that she will “defer to the guidance” of the attorney general.
Despite bipartisan recognition that Rauner is wrong, the governor is still pressing state agencies to violate the law. Why? His strategy is largely a legal one; the governor wants to force this matter into the courts, in hopes of securing another anti-labor ruling from the activist majority on the US Supreme Court.
In the meantime, however, Rauner’s got a political problem, since his own Republican appointee is refusing to go along with his scheme.
Why is the comptroller defiant? It may go beyond respect for the law. Munger must face the voters in a special election that is scheduled to coincide with the November 2016, presidential election.
Munger would fare poorly running as an advocate for the anti-labor policies of Scott Walker and Bruce Rauner in a high-turnout election. So following the law, and respecting unions, may be the better part of political valor. It is also a part of the Republican tradition in Illinois and nationally. Republican candidates have historically competed with Democrats for union support and votes in Illinois. Indeed, the comptroller Munger succeeded, the late Judy Baar Topinka, was an old-school Illinois Republican who was hailed as “a champion for unions and for working people.”
Republicans who side with unions are rare these days. But Illinoisans in particular have reason to expect more of the Grand Old Party than Rauner’s anti-labor obsession. After all, it was an Illinois Republican who said, “Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
His name was Abraham Lincoln.
Read Next: John Nichols on David Carr
We could not afford to lose David Carr.
And yet, we have.
After a particularly unsettling week for the jumble of journalism, entertainment, folly and possibility that we have come to call “media,” we are suddenly without the one ink-stained—or is it now “digit-damaged”—wretch who was better than any of the rest of us at making sense of it all.
The New York Times columnist on all things media, who died Thursday night at the absurdly young age of 58, waded into the greatest debates of our time with a warmth, humor and humility that belied his amazing ability to get to the heart of the matter—as he did in his final interview, just hours before his death, with Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Edward Snowden.
What made Carr the necessary guide through an ever-expanding maze of conflicts and contradictions was not that he always knew the way. In an age of stupid certainty, and the cruel choices that extend from it, he reminded us to cling to our humanity as we explored the unknown together.
Jaron Lanier, the great examiner of our still-forming digital age, titled his book about these times: You Are Not a Gadget. David Carr, who sought to examine the whole of our media moment, understood the premise that we needed to master our new technologies—as opposed to being mastered by them. But he extended the notion to suggest a second premise: You Are Not a Troll.
Carr was as sharp-witted as they came. And he had an eye that recognized every fumble by media moguls, elite anchormen, neo-Luddites and digital utopians. Yet, instead of calling them out for the sake of calling them out, he sought to understand and, ultimately, to explain the economic and technological and human demands that have thrown journalism and media into a new paradigm that is not evolving but, rather, coming at us at speeds now measured in gigabits.
As one who had stumbled himself, and chronicled his fall and rise in a harrowing book on his own drug addiction, he was not so interested in passing judgment. He was interested in figuring it all out. But, even more than that, he was interested in reminding us that we are human beings and citizens—not gadgets and consumers—who must figure at least a few things out before we become so atomized and antagonistic that we will all stop making sense.
When we discussed these issues, Carr and I could come down on different sides. He was more optimistic than I about the prospect that media corporations and plucky entrepreneurs will sort out the matter of how to pay for a journalism that is not just entertaining but that is sufficient to the demands of democracy. And he was more patient with our unsettled moment. Robert McChesney and I appeared with him a few years back (along with Pamela Newkirk and Laura Flanders at a lovely Nation event at the New York Society for Ethical Culture) to discuss the decline of speak-truth-to-power reporting. Carr was well aware of our sense of urgency—and of our advocacy for alternatives to broken corporate-ownership models. He acknowledged the prospect of a “dead-bang ugly” future for journalism. But he argued, “You don’t flip the switch on the future and walk into a bright future. You guys in your book say we can’t afford a ten- or twenty-year lapse in accountability journalism. Well there is going to be a sort, I think, a period of time when there’s going to be some frictional changes.”
Carr was not comfortable with the decline of watchdog journalism and the rise of relentless spin. He was searching, as hard as anyone in these times, for the wise and decent and honorable alternatives to that “dead-bang ugly” future. But he knew that someone had to chart those frictional changes, and that in trying to make sense of them we might yet renew a journalism that is more inclined to comfort the afflicted than to perform stenography for the comfortable.
It was a radical humanity that allowed Carr to keep untying the Gordian knot of a new-media age. This was so very evident this week, as he urged us to look beyond the personalities and the politics of the Brian Williams interlude to recognize the structural realities that have made anchormen into pop stars.
“We want our anchors to be both good at reading the news and also pretending to be in the middle of it,” he wrote. “That’s why, when the forces of man or Mother Nature whip up chaos, both broadcast and cable news outlets are compelled to ship the whole heaving apparatus to far-flung parts of the globe, with an anchor as the flag bearer. We want our anchors to be everywhere, to be impossibly famous, globe-trotting, hilarious, down-to-earth, and above all, trustworthy. It’s a job description that no one can match.”
Much of what he wrote there could apply to the task of sorting out the media equation. Yet, steadily, thoughtfully, amazingly, wonderfully, David Carr matched the job description.
Read Next: John Nichols on Elizabeth Warren and the 2016 election
The movement to draft Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren into the Democratic race for the presidency has always faced two big challenges:
1. Warren says she is not running.
2. Warren trails far behind Hillary Clinton in the polls of voters in the first caucus state of Iowa and the first primary state of New Hampshire. Nationally, the Real Clear Politics average of recent polls puts Clinton at 60 percent. Vice President Joe Biden in in second with 11.4 percent. Then comes Warren with 11.1 percent and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders with 3.4 percent.
The point of the draft movement is to get Warren to address challenge No. 1 by changing her “no” to “yes” and entering the contest. But that change is unlikely to occur if challenge No. 2 is not addressed by polling that suggests a Warren run would be welcome and viable.
So the “Run Warren Run” draft campaigners hired the YouGov polling organization to survey likely Iowa Democratic caucus goers and New Hampshire Democratic primary voters. What the polling reveals is that
1. Likely Democratic voters in both states want to see a contest for the Democratic nomination. According to the memorandum analyzing the data, “Virtually all respondents agree with the case for a contested race, with 98% agreeing that a competitive primary is good for the party, candidates and voters.”
2. When likely Democratic voters are presented with information about Warren and her populist positions on the issues ranging from trade policy to banking regulation to student loan debt, they become more enthusiastic about her running—and about backing her in a race that also includes Clinton. Indeed, while a plurality of likely voters remains undecided in each state, Warren moves into a credible lead over Clinton in Iowa (31-24, with 6 percent for Sanders) and a narrower lead in New Hampshire (30-27, with 6 percent for Sanders).
This sort of polling can be instructive, but it is far from definitional.
First off, there’s a need for a big note of caution with regard to those horse-race numbers. By presenting positive information about Warren, the survey creates some balance for the advantage Clinton enjoys because of high name recognition and high approval ratings among Democrats. It gets voters thinking. That’s reasonable, since it is fair to assume that a Warren campaign would seek to do just that. But there are no guarantees that campaigns go according to plan, or that other candidates will not counter those campaigns with their own positive and negative messages. In other words, these numbers point to possibilities as opposed to providing anything akin to assurances.
The analysis of the Iowa and New Hampshire polling data distributed by key groups backing the draft effort—MoveOn.org Political Action and Democracy for America—frankly notes that “this is not a so-called ‘clean’ head-to-head ballot question, as voters were provided positive information about Warren but not other potential candidates. It should not be read as reflecting how Iowans or Granite Staters would vote if the caucuses or primary were held today. Rather, it should be read as an indicator that many voters in these states are ‘moveable,’ open to supporting Elizabeth Warren when they learn about her, and like what she has to say.”
So it is important to keep the horserace numbers in perspective.
But it is also important to recognize the significance of those numbers regarding the desire of Democrats for a contest. That is strikingly evident not just from the polling data but also from what activists and elected officials have told me on my recent trips to New Hampshire and Iowa.
I was in Des Moines over the weekend, speaking with a number of progressive activists. A number of them were already wearing pro-Warren T-shirts and posting signs backing the senator. Many were also circulating petitions urging Sanders to seek the Democratic nomination and displaying “Run Bernie Run—as a Democrat” stickers distributed by Progressive Democrats of America.
The desire for a debate is real. So, too, is the worry about a caucus and primary season where the Republicans are campaigning, holding debates and getting all the attention while the Democrats barely go through the motions.
Both parties should have wide-open nominating processes, with multiple candidates and—above all—serious discussion of the issues. Republican and Democratic elites might prefer coronations. But the bases of both parties want real competition and real debate. Republicans are already beginning to experience that competition, and Democrats are hungry for it.
As the memorandum analyzing the YouGov data indicates: “Virtually every Iowa caucus goer and New Hampshire primary voter, including those supporting Hillary Clinton in this survey, agrees with this argument in favor of a contested primary: ‘More than one candidate should compete for your support before getting your party’s nomination. It’s good for candidates and the Democratic Party to have to formulate and explain their positions on a range of issues. And it’s good for your state to have multiple candidates who are coming to the state and educating voters about where they stand on the issues.’”
Read Next: John Nichols on Warren and the 2016 election
Bruce Rauner’s campaign for governor of Illinois hit a rough spot when it was revealed that he was talking about lowering the minimum wage.
That’s right, lowering.
At a December, 2013, Republican campaign forum, the wealthy candidate declared, “I will advocate moving the Illinois minimum wage back to the national minimum wage. I think we’ve got to be competitive here in Illinois. It’s critical we’re competitive. We’re hurting our economy by having the minimum wage above the national. We’ve got to move back to the national.”
Practically, what that would have meant was cutting the state’s 8.25-per-hour wage guarantee down to the federal rate of $7.25-per-hour.
Politically, what that meant was trouble because, as the Chicago Tribune noted, the statement “had threatened to upend a carefully crafted campaign aimed at convincing Republican primary voters and independents that the man who is potentially the wealthiest candidate ever to run for public office in the state was a regular guy.”
So Rauner backtracked, declaring that he was being “flippant” and that he was actually interested in increasing wages. (Never mind that tape of the radio interview in which the candidate was quoted as explaining that “I have said, on a number of occasions, that we could have a lower minimum wage or no minimum wage.”)
The flip-flop worked. Rauner was elected governor last November.
He still avoids the minimum-wage trap, even going so far as to suggest now that he wants to hike the rate—though he is currently objecting to moves by the Illinois state Senate to do just that.
But Rauner remains an ardent advocate for positions that are all but certain to reduce wages.
Last week, Rauner was talking up the idea of letting Illinois cities and counties reject the state’s labor laws and implement local “right-to-work zones,” where new rules could make it harder for unions to organize and effectively bargain for pay and benefit hikes.
This week, Rauner has moved unilaterally to overturn long-established models for collecting dues from state workers who are represented by public-employee unions. The governor claims that asking workers to pay their fair share for union representation violates the US Constitution.
In fact, Rauner’s the one who is operating outside the law, says American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch, who calls the governor’s executive order “a blatantly illegal abuse of power.”
“Perhaps as a private equity CEO Rauner was accustomed to ignoring legal and ethical standards, but Illinois is still a democracy and its laws have meaning,” says Lynch.
Service Employees International Union Illinois Council president Tom Balanoff was blunter, asserting that Rauner “knows this is not legal.”
It appears that the governor’s ultimate goal is to spark a legal battle, which he hopes will lead to an anti-labor intervention by the activist majority on the US Supreme Court.
No one doubts that Rauner will pursue that legal fight aggressively. As a Chicago Sun-Times column put it: “Governor Bruce Rauner fired his first shot Monday in his campaign to give all Illinois workers the right to choose to work for less money.”
Attacking unions makes sense for a man who once advocated for “no minimum wage.”
Unions are ardent supporters of living-wage initiatives and related efforts to improve pay for workers—whether they are members of labor organizations or not.
When unions are weakened, guarantees of fair wages are weakened.
Workers who are represented by unions have historically earned higher wages than workers who are not covered by labor contracts.
The strongest arguments that unions make for themselves are rooted in the statistics that reveal the fundamental difference between the circumstance of union members and non-union workers.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics announced last month that “In 2014, among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly earnings of $970, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings of $763.”
More than two hundred bucks a week counts for something, especially in an era when wage growth has so very frequently been so very slow.
The union advantage can be even greater in states with strong unions—for members and for non-members. That’s because, where unions are strong, employers must pay better wages to compete for the best workers.
Of course, there are distinctions to be made between private-sector and public-sector employment; union representation in the public sector is especially vital because of the protections that are provided for workers who blow the whistle on irresponsible practices and spending by managers, legislators and governors. “Without the protection of their union, nurses in public hospitals and clinics would be restricted from speaking out about unsafe hospital and clinic conditions, public servants who enforce public oversight and regulatory protections would be hamstrung in their ability to confront corporate attacks on safety standards, child welfare advocates would have less protection from retaliation for putting the interests of children first,” explained Martese Chism, a Chicago registered nurse and board member for National Nurses Organizing Committee-Illinois (National Nurses United).
But there is also a bottom-line contention when it comes to undermining the strength and flexibility of unions—no matter what the state, no matter what the sector. Attacks on labor organizations represent what Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery decries as “brazen, out-of-touch attacks on the middle class and the unions who give them a collective voice.”
Read Next: John Nichols on Warren and the 2016 election
Backed by unions and grassroots activists, the WFP was organized in 1998 to move New York and national politics in a progressive direction. Sometimes, when the fight has been with conservative Republicans, the WFP has aligned with centrist Democrats, including Clinton. But, when the fight is over the type of challenge that will be made to those conservative Republicans in 2016, WFP activists recognize that progressives are skeptical with regard to Clinton’s expected candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.
A measure of that skepticism was on display Sunday, as the Working Families Party formally urged Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to try for the Democratic nod.
“We know a champion for working families when we see one—and millions of Americans clearly do too. That’s why Senator Warren is inspiring such a remarkable surge of grassroots enthusiasm,” declared a message from WFP New York State Director Bill Lipton, which was sent to party backers and others after the WFP’s Sunday decision to ask Warren to run. “She’s taken the fight directly to Wall St. and to the big banks that increasingly have a vice grip on our economy and our democracy. She’s led the effort to create a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She’s fought on behalf of students and recent graduates suffering from crippling student loan debt, and to change the debate in D.C. from a discussion over whether to cut Social Security into one about how we can grow it.”
Warren says she is not running.
But an energetic “Draft Warren” campaign has taken shape in Iowa, New Hampshire and other states. (Read more about it in my colleague George Zornick’s Nation cover story). National groups such as MoveOn.org and Democracy for America are pouring energy into the effort. And the WFP move turns up the volume.
A significant force in New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio and Public Advocate Letitia James have long enjoyed the party’s support, the WFP maintained its ballot line in 2014 by backing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The Cuomo endorsement stirred criticism from progressive activists, who thought the party should challenge a governor who was seen as being too close to the interests the WFP frequently battles. The call for a Warren candidacy puts the WFP at odds with a candidate it once endorsed, Clinton, but it is likely to appeal to the progressives activists who last year were frustrated with the party.
The move also marks the party as a potentially influential force in presidential politics. Operating in a state where third, fourth and even fifth parties can be significant political forces—thanks to a “fusion” law that allows candidates to run on more than one party line and then merge accumulated votes into a grand total—the Working Families Party is not the first of New York State’s smaller parties to link up not merely with major parties but with movements within major parties. When John F. Kennedy accepted the endorsement of the state’s old Liberal Party in 1960, he declared, “I’m proud to say I’m a Liberal.” Kennedy’s Democratic vote in New York state that November was slightly less than Richard Nixon’s Republican vote, but 406,176 Liberal votes gave Kennedy a comfortable victory.
The prospect of combining Democratic and WFP votes for Warren is a long way off. A Warren spokesperson told The New York Times Sunday that the senator “is not running for president and doesn’t support these draft campaigns.” And Warren is far behind Clinton is the polls.
That said, leaders of the movement to draft Warren were clearly pleased with the move by the WFP.
Referring to the WFP decision as a “a huge moment for the campaign to draft Elizabeth Warren,” Ready for Warren campaign manager Erica Sagrans said, “Last summer, a group of passionate volunteers who shared the improbable idea that they could convince Elizabeth Warren to run for president came together to start Ready for Warren. Late last year, MoveOn and Democracy for America joined in. And now with the Working Families Party on board, this movement is getting stronger by the day.”
Read Next: John Nichols on how Bush beat Romney in the GOP establishment primary
UPDATE (2-3-15) 5:30 pm: Facing sharp criticism for proposing to abandon the University of Wisconsin’s public-service mission statement, as outlined in state statutes, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on Wednesday afternoon abruptly dropped the plan. Criticized for attacking the Wisconsin Idea and the state’s historic commitment to academic inquiry, the all-but-announced 2016 presidential candidate shifted course less than twenty-four hours after making his proposal, which came as part of a broader assault on higher education funding. Walker claimed the line-by-line proposal for changing the statutes was a “drafting error.” The following article provides background and context regarding the prospective presidential candidate’s stumble.
Americans have returned to the question of whether the Republican Party has launched a “war on science”—as 2016 presidential prospects Chris Christie and Rand Paul have abandoned public-health imperatives in order to feed skepticism about whether children should be vaccinated against infectious diseases.
But Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has trumped his fellow 2016 contenders.
Walker is launching a war on the truth.
As part of a broader attempt to diminish the state’s support for, and ties to, the University of Wisconsin System, Walker wants to strike “Wisconsin Idea” language from state statutes—including references to public service and a commitment to “search for truth.”
The Wisconsin Idea, which is much discussed but not always so much understood in the present day, has always been always been about seeking the truth, and about applying the results of that search not just to curriculum choices but to the policies and programs of the state.
The statutes of the state of Wisconsin detail a vision of the role of the University of Wisconsin rooted in this Wisconsin Idea, which holds that the mission of the UW is both to educate students and to provide information and ideas to solve the challenges facing the state and its citizens. Outlined more than a century ago in the language of longtime University of Wisconsin President Charles Van Hise, Governor Robert M. La Follette and their progressive allies, the Wisconsin Idea has always held that “the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state.”
What this meant, practically, was that when farmers faced a challenge, UW professors did research to help them address it. When city officials were looking to improve sanitation, UW professors provided assistance. When state and local officials were looking to assure that elections were fair and functional, UW professors analyzed and responded to proposals. And when new technologies developed, such as radio and television, the UW utilized them to spread knowledge and ideas to Wisconsinites who might never set foot on a campus. (Notably, Walker’s budget also proposes cuts to Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television.)
The Wisconsin Idea has always held that democracy requires an informed and engaged citizenry, and that academics and researchers should pursue the truth in order to serve that citizenry.
For decades, this vision has been detailed in the Wisconsin Statutes that reference the UW System. “The mission of the system is to develop human resources, to discover and disseminate knowledge, to extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campuses and to serve and stimulate society by developing in students heightened intellectual, cultural and humane sensitivities, scientific, professional and technological expertise and a sense of purpose,” the statutes explain. “Inherent in this broad mission are methods of instruction, research, extended training and public service designed to educate people and improve the human condition. Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.”
With his presentation Tuesday night of a new state budget plan that will also serve as a touchstone for his presidential campaign, Governor Walker proposed to cut $300 million in higher-education funding as part of plan to remake the UW System as a “public authority” with “increased flexibilities.” In legislative documents outlining how the plan would be implemented, Walker and his team suggested a rewrite of the statutes that strikes the call “to extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campuses and to serve and stimulate society.” He also wants to remove the closing lines that read: “Inherent in this broad mission are methods of instruction, research, extended training and public service designed to educate people and improve the human condition. Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.”
Walker has never made a secret of his disdain for Wisconsin’s progressive heritage, and his policies have evidenced his disregard for the Wisconsin Idea. But disdain and disregard are one thing. Eliminating references to “the search for truth”—and to using that truth to “improve the human condition”—is something else altogether.
There were many incidents that helped to forge Wisconsin’s commitment to freedom of inquiry and to the use of the inquiry to serve students and the state. The most famous of these came in the 1890s, when state officials pressured the UW to remove Professor Richard T. Ely from his position as director of the School of Economics, Political Science and History at the University. The charge was that Ely was too engaged with efforts in the community to improve social conditions and to expand the rights of workers. The controversy was as bitter as it was intense. But ultimately the UW Board of Regents rejected the pressure to limit the school’s search for truth and its engagement with the issues and challenges facing Wisconsin.
Their defense of Ely is quoted on a plaque on the UW campus that reads: “Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere we believe the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.”
The Wisconsin Idea has always been about the search for truth, at the UW and beyond.
When Scott Walker attacks that search, he attacks not just the UW but Wisconsin; not just public service, but the pursuit of truth in service to the public.
Read Next: John Nichols on the people’s movement to win net neutrality.
Can the people ever win in an new age of oligarchy, when corporate power is so frequently and thoroughly unbound?
Yes, sometimes, they can.
After years of bumbling, blustering and bureaucratic attempts to avoid necessary action, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to move on Thursday to defend net neutrality. According to the design and technology blog Gizmodo, “It’s Finally Game Time for Net Neutrality.” The more staid Wall Street Journal explains that the commission majority is moving to “fully embrace the principle known as net neutrality”—the “central element” of which “would be a ban on broadband providers blocking, slowing down or speeding up specific websites in exchange for payment.”
Translation: The FCC is preparing to defend the Internet as we know it against subdivision by profiteers who would create a “fast lane” for paying content from multinational corporations and billionaire-backed politicians and a “slow lane” for communications from those who are not on the winning side of the income-inequality chasm.
This is a good thing for citizens, for consumers and for businesses that seek to compete on the merits of their products and services—rather than to shut down competition with crony-capitalist deals and the monopolies that extend from them. So good, in fact, that Free Press president Craig Aaron calls the expected FCC embrace of net neutrality “one of the most important victories for the public interest in its history.” Future of Music Coalition CEO Casey Rae says that if the FCC acts, as now seems possible, the commission will not just uphold basic freedoms but unleash “the amazing creativity that real net neutrality will help inspire for generations to come.”
Consumer, civil rights, media reform and open-Internet activist groups—Consumers Union, Color of Change, Demand Progress, CREDO Action, the Future of Music Coalition and Free Press, among others—have for years advocated on behalf of net neutrality. And they have argued that the only way to defend “the First Amendment of the Internet” is by regulating high-speed Internet service in the public interest—rather than in the interest of old-fashioned telephone and cable companies.
FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, like his predecessors, initially resisted the logic of recognizing broadband providers as common carriers under Title II of the federal Communications Act, a move that would allow the commission to establish forward-looking policies to preserve an open Internet. But, after the November election, the man who appointed Wheeler to the FCC intervened on behalf of the right response.
“An open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life. By lowering the cost of launching a new idea, igniting new political movements, and bringing communities closer together, it has been one of the most significant democratizing influences the world has ever known,” explained President Obama. “Net neutrality has been built into the fabric of the Internet since its creation—but it is also a principle that we cannot take for granted. We cannot allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas. That is why today, I am asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.”
Wheeler, a former president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, did not move immediately. Even prodding from the president is not always enough to get federal regulators to challenge the power of the telephone and cable industries that flood Washington with lobbyists and election campaigns with money. But the people kept pushing—flooding the FCC with millions of comments and making it clear that they would not be fooled by compromises, concessions and “hybrid proposals” that deliver something less than full net neutrality.
Of course, media and political power-brokers are imagining that the shift by the FCC is largely the result of “Silicon Valley firms” such as Amazon, Google, Netflix, Mozilla and Reddit that “have called for the FCC to shore up net neutrality.” But Google did not step up in a meaningful way until last September, long after grassroots groups had challenged—and upset—Wheeler’s initial “paid prioritization” plan. Without popular pressure, an insider debate about net neutrality would have resulted in an insider deal undermining the basic premises of a free and open Internet.
People power—and a terrific “seize your moment, my lovely trolls” call to action by John Oliver that crashed the FCC’s comment system—changed the debate. And people power must continue.
Wheeler will circulate his proposal Thursday, setting the stage for a vote by the five-member commission on February 26. Telecommunications industry lobbying will be intense because billions of dollars, and the future of communications in a digital age, are at stake. Even though, with Wheeler’s shift, the FCC now would appear to have a 3-2 majority in favor of net neutrality, the lobbyists will seek to weaken the proposal, insert loopholes and weaken standards for enforcement. The lobbyists will, as well, seek congressional interventions on behalf of the telecommunications firms, and they will do so from a position of strength because, as John Oliver says, “these companies have Washington in their pockets to a conveniently almost-unbelievable way.”
The goal of public-interest advocates must be to get both an FCC commitment to net neutrality and a final order that is “free of loopholes and industry meddling,” says Aaron, who explains that this will protect “the legal right of all individuals to access affordable, competitive and secure communications networks which enable them to transmit the information of their choosing between points of their choosing, without unjust discrimination.”
That’s a worthy goal. And it now appears to be an achievable goal—a development that is as remarkable as it is welcome. But no one should be naïve. Net neutrality is not being guaranteed as a gift to citizens and consumers. It is being won by citizens and consumers. That win must be assured in the weeks to come. And it must be defended in the months and years to come.
Read Next: John Nichols on Scott Walker’s careerism
When Mitt Romney, who is anything but a fresh face in the Republican hierarchy decided to forgo a third run for the presidency, he announced, “I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders—one who may not be as well-known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started—may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee. In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.”
Full-on Republican presidential contender Scott Walker just presumed that the man who Republican primary voters rejected in 2008, and who the rest of the American electorate rejected in 2012, was talking about a certain governor of Wisconsin.
Never mind that, in his book, Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge, Walker ripped the party’s 2012 campaign—and, by extension, its nominee—for doing a “lousy job of presenting a positive vision of free market solutions to our nation’s problems in a way that is relevant to people’s lives.” Never mind that Walker griped just days before Romney quit the race that a 2016 run by the 2012 loser would be “pretty hard” to justify. Never mind that Walker, one of the most relentlessly negative campaigners in contemporary American politics, was more than ready to beat up on Romney if that was necessary to advance his own 2016 run. With Romney’s decision to sideline himself, Walker chirped, “I would love to have his endorsement.”
Walker actually went a step further, going on Twitter to suggest that he was precisely the sort of “next generation” leader Romney was referring to. “Had a great conversation w/ @MittRomney,” Walker announced. “He’s a good man. Thanked him for his interest in opening the door for fresh leadership in America.”
There’s only one problem with this calculus.
Scott Walker isn’t fresh.
The governor is a political careerist who has sought office—as a winner and loser—more times that Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz combined.
In a permanent campaign that began a quarter century ago—when he quit college and launched a losing state legislative campaign against future US Congresswoman Gwen Moore—Walker has run 24 primary and general election races. That doesn’t include a 2006 bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Wisconsin, which he scrapped after national party officials elbowed him aside in favor of another candidate, or his all-but announced 2016 presidential run.
Hyper-ambitious yet strikingly disciplined, Walker has used every office he has ever held as a platform from which to run for the next. Even when scandals have led to the arrests, indictments and convictions of campaign donors, campaign aides and official staffers, Walker has maintained a steady focus on climbing the political ladder that is perhaps most comparable to that of former President Bill Clinton.
As a state legislator, Walker backed an effort to recall the sitting Milwaukee County Executive and then jumped into the race for that job. After winning his first full term as county executive in 2004, Walker immediately began running for the 2006 Republican gubernatorial nomination.
When that run was scuttled, Walker sought and secured a second term as county executive in 2008, only to immediately begin running for the 2010 Republican gubernatorial nomination. After securing the governorship, Walker quickly began positioning himself on the national stage—not just by picking high-profile fights with Wisconsin unions that would, ultimately, lead to a rare gubernatorial recall challenge but by jetting around the country to court the wealthiest campaign donors and to appear in the first caucus state of Iowa and the first primary state of New Hampshire.
Before his 2014 reelection race was complete, Walker was already visiting Las Vegas with other 2016 Republican presidential prospects seeking the favor of billionaire campaign donor Sheldon Adelson. Despite the fact that he said during that 2014 race that he intended to serve the full term he was seeking—“I want to be governor and that’s the only thing I’ve been focused on,” “My plan—if the voters approve—is to serve as governor for the next four years”—Walker was already actively preparing a 2016 run. He even wrote (well, sort of wrote, with the help of a politically connected DC insider who had worked as a speechwriter for George W. Bush) an autobiography/manifesto that was so transparent in its ambition that Glenn Beck’s The Blaze described as “the archetype of a book for a future Presidential candidate (written) without ever so much as hinting as to any intent to run for presidentWalker is now well beyond the hinting stage. And they run is going well, so far, with governor beginning to climb in the polls. One survey even puts him in first place among Iowa Republicans, one point ahead of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and further ahead of prominent prospects such as Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. No surprise there: Walker has a lot more experience contending for public office than most of the other Republicans who are preparing to run in 2016.
Walker ran his first campaign for elective office four years before Jeb Bush and eight years before Rubio. Walker was an elected official in Wisconsin seventeen years before Rand Paul was elected in Kentucky, and nineteen years before Ted Cruz was elected in Texas. Walker was running even before party elders such as Mike Huckabee, who won his first election in Arkansas in the summer of 1993—a month after Walker was first elected to the Wisconsin legislature.
It’s worth noting that, even when he was running in 1993, Walker was not considered “fresh.” When it endorsed him that year, the conservative Milwaukee Sentinel referred to Walker not as a newcomer but as what he already was decades ago: “an active Republican insider.”
Read Next: John Nichols on the promise of elections.