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The Federal Communications Commission has finally taken the necessary steps to preserve a free and open Internet by guaranteeing net neutrality.
With the commission’s 3-2 vote on Thursday, the issue is settled.
Then it will rise again. No, there will not be a mass outcry against net neutrality, the premise that all Internet communications should be treated equally. There will be no popular demand for ending net neutrality protections against the development of a two-tier Internet, where “paying” content (from multinational corporations and powerful special interests) moves on an information superhighway, while “non-paying” content (from grassroots groups and dissenting citizens) is diverted onto a digital dirt road.
But there will be campaign donations, lobbying and spin from telephone and cable companies that have too much at stake to give up on the fight for an end to rules that prevent them from subdividing the Internet for profit. Telecommunications conglomerates stand to make a lot more money if they can charge extra to move some communications more quickly—creating a circumstance where corporations and politicians with the right connections can pay for commercial and political advantages in the digital age.
The telecom giants cannot establish a pay-to-play Internet if the FCC enforces strict net neutrality protections. That’s why it was so vital that media reform, civil-rights and community groups first made net neutrality an issue and then succeeded in building a mass movement on behalf of basing new net-neutrality rules on Title II of the Communications Act—a step that would allow regulation in the public interest rather. That’s why it mattered so much that President Obama embraced net neutrality and urged his appointees to the FCC to do the same. And that’s why the FCC’s embrace of net neutrality is such a big deal for communications and democracy.
There is much to celebrate. In an era when corporations so frequently get so very much of what they ask for, it is both good and hopeful that a federal agency is acting on behalf of the public interest. “Today’s vote is the biggest win for the public interest in the FCC’s history,” says Free Press president Craig Aaron. “It’s the culmination of a decade of dedicated grassroots organizing and advocacy. Millions of people came to the defense of the open Internet to tell Washington, in no uncertain terms, that the Internet belongs to all of us and not just a few greedy phone and cable companies.”
This is, in particular, a win for social and economic justice advocates, who rely on a free and open Internet to communicate and to organize. “The open Internet is the platform that allows ordinary people to speak with an unfiltered voice, and net neutrality is what protects that,” explains Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange.org. “A new civil rights movement is now flourishing in this country in response to tragic and unjust police violence in Ferguson, Staten Island, and many other communities. But without net neutrality, the voices of everyday people wouldn’t have a chance. Today the FCC has taken crucial steps toward protecting a vital tool in the fight for equality and justice. This victory shows that people power can sometimes triumph over corporate dollars.”
Robinson is right. A remarkable coalition of media reform, civil-rights and community activists made the win possible, with crucial roles played by Common Cause, the Future of Music Coalition, the Center for Media Justice, Presente.org, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Consumers Union and dozens of other groups. But when today’s celebrations are done, it will be important to recognize that this is not, necessarily, the end of the story.
Even as the FCC was preparing to act—with three Democratic appointees voting for net neutrality and two Republican appointees voting against—Republicans on Capitol Hill were busy setting up a new front in the long battle. Key House committees were scrambling this week to hold “hearings” that were designed to amplify the anti–net neutrality talking points of the telecom industry and its lobbyists.
Dismissed as “political theater” by supporters of the FCC move, a House Communications and Technology Subcommittee hearing featured “phone and cable industry-funded spokespeople and pundits enlisted by their congressional allies to spread fear about net neutrality.”
This was “political theater,” designed to provide a platform for the telecommunications companies and their allies. But it was also a reminder that the telephone and cable companies will keep looking for ways to chip away at net neutrality.
There will be legal challenges, as there have been before.
Republicans in the House and Senate could enact anti–net neutrality legislation. But it would, in all certainty, be blocked by President Obama, who has been ardent in his support of net neutrality and who says, “For almost a century, our law has recognized that companies who connect you to the world have special obligations not to exploit the monopoly they enjoy over access into and out of your home or business. It is common sense that the same philosophy should guide any service that is based on the transmission of information—whether a phone call or a packet of data.”
So net neutrality is real for now. But what happens when Obama is gone? What happens with the next president and the next Congress?
The presumed front-runner for the 2016 presidential nomination, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, appears to be reasonably supportive of net neutrality. She says that if she were on the FCC she would back the move to reclassify broadband as a utility—identifying Internet service providers as common carriers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. But she also says, “It’s not just net neutrality standing alone, end of debate. And that should be part of a really smart legislative endeavor, but I don’t think people believe that could happen in the short term.”
The “short term” finishes in 2016. Then a new president will appoint new members of the FCC and will work with a new Congress—in which Democrats might control the Senate, or might not. Clinton says that what’s happened now is “not the end of the discussion.”
She’s right. And that’s why net neutrality will be an issue in the 2016 presidential election.
Clinton needs to be pressed on what she means when she talks about “a really smart legislative endeavor” and “a modern twenty-first-century telecom act.” This should be an issue in Democratic debates. That would be likely if Senator Elizabeth Warren is drafted into the race. And it would certainly happen if Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders mounts a primary challenge to Clinton. Sanders has championed media reform and media justice issues since coming to Congress in 1991. Few on Capitol Hill understand media issues so well as Sanders. And he is a stalwart for net neutrality, speaking frequently on the why it is necessary to “ensure that the Internet remains a space for the open exchange of ideas and information, free of discrimination and corporate control.”
If a Republican is elected president, however, all net neutrality bets could be off. The GOP, which once was more supportive of competition and at least somewhat more interested in the public interest, has become reliably pro-corporate in its approach to the regulation of the telecommunications industry. The party’s platform explicitly rejects net neutrality, complaining that regulation in the public interest is an attempt “to micromanage telecom.” Despite the fact that many of the most innovative Internet firms were ardent backers of net neutrality, congressional Republicans specifically urged the FCC not to act as it has because doing so “would threaten the jobs and investments made possible by the broadband industry.”
Republican presidential prospects who have spoken on the issue are even more ardent than the platform of their party’s congressional leadership. Texas Senator Ted Cruz says net neutrality is “Obamacare for the Internet” and claims that “the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.” Former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s father and brother appointed industry allies to the FCC, and no one expects Jeb to reject the family tradition. And it would be a bad bet, indeed, to imagine that candidates who have slathered themselves in special-interest money such as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker would look to the public-interest community for advice and counsel.
In 2016, candidates of both parties will be questioned, challenged and asked to get specific about net neutrality. The issue will arise in 2016, at the cocktail parties and closed-door dinners where candidates collect campaign contributions. The question is whether activists will provoke an open and honest debate that will let every American know where the candidates stand—and what is at stake.
“There’s no doubt that the cable and telecom monopolies and their hired guns will ramp up their lies and lobbying in an attempt to take this victory away from Internet users,” warns Aaron, who says activists who have won net neutrality must be ready to “defend this historic win.”
That defense will need to be mounted in 2016. Activists must be prepared to prod and pressure candidates of both parties to reject corporate spin and corporate cash in favor of the public interest and net neutrality.
John Nichols is (with Robert W. McChesney) a co-founder of Free Press, and a co-author of several books that consider the net neutrality issue, including The Death and Life of American Journalism (Nation Books) and Dollarocracy (Nation Books).
Read Next: John Nichols on Rahm Emanuel’s run-off challenger
Rahm Emanuel had everything going for him in his race for a second term as mayor of Chicago.
He was the incumbent in a city that tends to keep its mayors—sometimes for decades.
He had a twelve-to-one fundraising advantage against his closest competitor—and his campaign treasury was constantly being refueled by wealthy out-of-town donors and corporate special-interest groups.
He had the endorsement of his former boss, President Obama, who recorded campaign commercials for Emanuel and who jetted into Chicago just days before Tuesday’s election and appeared at the mayor’s side.
Emanuel had everything—except a sufficient number of votes to avoid an April 7 runoff election that will now become a referendum on policies that have been so friendly to corporate elites that the incumbent has been dubbed “Mayor 1%.”
Emanuel needed another percentage to avoid the runoff—50 percent plus one vote. Under Chicago’s system, all candidates for mayor and for aldermanic seats run on a nonpartisan ballot. If any candidate gets more than 50 percent, she or he is elected outright. If no one gets over 50 percent, the top two finishers in the initial election face one another in a runoff.
A lot of the betting in Chicago was that Emanuel would get his 50-plus-one.
But when the votes were counted, all bets were off.
Emanuel finished first, with 45 percent. But that was far short of the “50-plus-1” mark, so far that the Chicago Sun Times termed the result “a huge embarrassment” for the former White House aide and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair who many see as the most politically-connected mayor in the United States.
Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, the candidate of progressive labor groups such as the Chicago Teachers Union and the defender of public education and public services that have been threatened by Emanuel’s “pay-to-play” politics and municipal neoliberalism, finished a solid second with 34 percent. And the rest of the vote went to critics of the mayor: progressive Alderman Bob Fioretti, businessman Willie Wilson and William “Dock” Walls III, a former aide to the late progressive Mayor Harold Washington.
“Political dynamics change as Emanuel, Garcia move into runoff campaign,” Wednesday morning’s Chicago Tribune headline declared. The featured photo was not of a triumphant Rahm running a victory lap but of “Chuy” Garcia surrounded by a multiracial, multi-ethnic circle of activists raising clenched fists of labor and community solidarity.
Though his is still an uphill run, it was Garcia who took the victory lap.
“So, nobody thought we’d be here tonight. They wrote us off. They said we didn’t have a chance,” he told the cheering crowd on election night. “They said we didn’t have any money while they spent millions attacking us. Well, we’re still standing. We’re still running and we’re gonna win.”
Garcia explained his unexpectedly strong showing—with numbers well above what polls had predicted—in the progressive populist language of his campaign. “Today, we the people have spoken.” he declared. “Not the people with the money and the power and the connections. Not the giant corporations. The big-money special interests. The hedge funds and Hollywood celebrities who poured tens of millions of dollars into the mayor’s campaign. They all had their say. They’ve had their say for too long. But today, the rest of us had something to say.”
Across the country, progressives rook notice, and started talking about Chicago in the way they did New York during the early stages of that city’s 2013 mayoral race—when it started to look like Bill de Blasio might have a chance.
“The next six weeks in Chicago will be the biggest fight of 2015 between the power of people and the power of big money,” declared Dan Cantor, the national director of the Working Families Party. “The good guys won round one. Forcing Mayor 1% into a run-off is a remarkable achievement. Along with the run-off, the progressive caucus on the Council is poised to make gains. Chicago is showing signs of the progressive wave that has washed over cities across America.”
How did it happen?
How did Rahm Emanuel, who was elected without a runoff four years ago, win too few votes to avoid one this year?
No Chicago election is ever simple. The city has a famously arcane politics that mingles factors of personality and power, race and ethnicity, old-school ward machines and new-money media. Emanuel practiced it with big elbows, facing frequent charges of rewarding political allies and punishing those who dared to challenge him. But he neglected the neighborhoods, especially low-income neighborhoods that needed the city most during a first term where the city was rocked by violence and economic uncertainty.
If it is possible to point to one miscalculation by the mayor, it is surely his decision to close 50 schools and to provoke a fight with the teachers union, which struck for the first time in decades in 2012. The anger at Emanuel’s policies and his approach grew so intense that Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis began in 2013 to prepare a challenge to Emanuel, and polls showed she might beat him. When Lewis fell ill last fall and announced she would not run, the “smart money” said Emanuel was safe. But Lewis and others prevailed upon Garcia—a former alderman and state legislator with close ties to labor—to make the race. Though Garcia had a classic Chicago story of immigration (from northern Mexico, arriving in Chicago at age 10), hard work and political success, he was not well-known citywide, he started late and he never began to rival Emanuel’s money power.
But Garcia had an issue. He promised to fight for public education, to work to keep schools open and to respect teachers rather than pick fights with them. He even argued for reducing the mayor’s authority over the schools and giving power to the people: supporting an elected school board.
Calling for the city to “change course dramatically from the so-called ‘reforms’ offered by Mayor Emanuel,” Garcia constantly reminded voters that the schools closing and cuts under Emanuel were enabled by an appointed-rather-than-elected school board.
“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. This is the 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?” the candidate explained. “This raises the 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.”
Voters shared Garcia’s view. In addition to putting him in the runoff, they backed referendums in thirty-seven of the city’s fifty wards calling for an elected school board. After efforts to get a city-wide vote on the issue were blocked, the Campaign for an Elected Representative School Board and its allies got referendums on the ballots in most of the city’s wards. They won by overwhelming margins—in some wards taking over 90 percent of the vote. In addition, teachers and education advocates challenged Emanuel’s allies, and a number of them secured April 7 runoff spots.
So the runoff will not just be for mayor but for council seats—opening up a city-wide debate about the direction the city will take with regard to public education, public services and the needs of the 99 percent of Chicagoans who are not donors to the campaign of “Mayor 1%.”
“In Chicago, this election showed a real yearning for a mayor who listens to working families. They want good jobs and safe neighborhoods with thriving, not closed, public schools,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten “And Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia—as well as landslide support for an elected school board—became the standard-bearer for this aspiration.”
Read Next: John Nichols on Scott Walker’s “right to work” (for less) legislation
A funny thing happened on the way to the 2016 presidential race.
Scott Walker suddenly remembered how enthusiastic he is about “right to work” laws.
When Walker was running for re-election as governor of Wisconsin in 2014, he was frequently asked if he would sign so-called “right to work” legislation, which is designed to weaken unions and undermine the voices of workers on the job and in public life. Despite his reputation as an anti-labor zealot, Walker dodged the question again and again and again.
A month before the 2014 election, at a point when the polls were close and Walker was running for his political life, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Walker “won’t say if he would veto right-to-work legislation barring private-sector workers from having to join a union as part of their job.”
The Associated Press reported three weeks before the election that “Walker says he won’t push to make Wisconsin a right to work state or expand the Act 10 collective bargaining law if elected to a second term.”
As Election Day approached, Walker went further. He claimed he had told Republican legislators not to send him that legislation. Recalling the historic protests that arose four years ago when he attacked the collective bargaining rights of public-sector unions, Walker warned that raising the “right to work” issue would “bring the whole firestorm back.”
“Those aren’t the sorts of debates that are helpful for us to take the next step forward,” said the governor, as he made his case for re-election. “It’s about the tenor and the tone of the Legislature and what it means to the state as a whole.”
Every indication from Walker suggested that he wanted the issue to go away. “Right-to-work,” the governor declared, was “not something that’s part of my agenda.”
“My point is I’m not pushing for it,” he said. “I’m not supporting it in this session.”
Plenty of Walker critics in the labor movement and the legislature expressed skepticism about the governor’s temperate statements. After all, when one of his wealthiest supporters, Wisconsin billionaire Diane Hendricks, had asked in 2011 about making Wisconsin a “right to work” state, Walker was caught on tape replying: “The first step is we’re going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use divide and conquer.” That did not sound like a man who had any qualms about signing anti-labor legislation.
Yet, throughout the high-stakes 2014 campaign, the governor stuck to his newly moderate line, presenting himself as a smart manager who wanted to get things right rather than the rigid ideologue of the 2011 conflict.
That was then. This is now.
Walker’s not worrying about Wisconsin these days. He’s in a new race—scrambling to win the support of 2016 Republican presidential caucus-goers and primary voters who like their candidates to take a hard line on social and economic issues.
So Walker’s line just got a whole lot harder.
On Friday, two of the governor’s closest legislative allies, state Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald and state Assembly speaker Robin Vos, announced that they will call a rare “extraordinary session” to rush through a “right to work” bill with limited public input and debate. With solid Republican majorities in both chambers, they say they aim to pass the measure—which mirrors “model legislation” language peddled by the corporate-sponsored American Legislative Exchange Council —in a matter of days.
This development took most Wisconsinites by surprise. Republicans and Democrats had thought that the issue was on the legislative back-burner—not just because of Walker’s pre-election and post-election talk about wanting to avoid distractions, but also because some legislative Republicans had griped about the wisdom of advancing “right to work” legislation.
“It is absurd that Republicans would fast-track legislation to interfere with private business contracts and lower wages for all Wisconsin workers at a time when our state is facing a massive $2.2 billion budget crisis,” Wisconsin Senate Democratic leader Jennifer Shilling said after the announcement that the “right-to-work” fight was on.
“Objective polling clearly shows that the vast majority of Wisconsin residents view this issue as a distraction,” added Shilling, using the precise language that Walker had employed in dismissing discussions about advancing “right to work” initiatives. “Rather than creating economic uncertainty for Wisconsin families and small businesses, Republicans should focus their attention on boosting family wages, closing the skills gap and fixing the $2.2 billion budget crisis they created.”
But what does Walker say? Now that the issue has come to a head, is he wrestling with it, as he seemed to be during the campaign? Is he still asserting that “right to work” is a distraction? Does he worry that the proposed legislation would make it a Class A misdemeanor to maintain a traditional union shop in Wisconsin? Is he explaining that this move isn’t “helpful for us to take the next step forward”?
Walker, who is busily preparing a 2016 Republican presidential run that highlights his anti-labor stance, is now all in for “right to work.”
His office announced Friday that: “Governor Walker continues to focus on budget priorities to grow our economy and to streamline state government. With that said, Governor Walker co-sponsored right-to-work legislation as a lawmaker and supports the policy. If this bill makes it to his desk, Governor Walker will sign it into law.”
Why didn’t Governor Walker say that during last year’s gubernatorial campaign?
It’s not like he is suggesting that he has come to some new conclusion with regard to anti-labor legislation of this sort, which the Economic Policy Institute warns “is associated with lower wages and benefits for both union and nonunion workers.” In fact, Wisconsinites have heard plenty of warnings in recent months that “right to work” legislation could do real harm to the state’s workers and communities. In a recent opinion piece written for the Journal Sentinel, Marquette University economics professor Abdur Chowdhury explained that “right-to-work legislation would provide no discernible overall economic advantage to Wisconsin, but it does impose significant social costs.”
What the statement from Walker’s office reveals is what the governor would not say when he was running for re-election in 2014 but what he will say as a 2016 Republican presidential prospect. He was just fooling some of the people some of the time when he feigned uncertainty on last year’s gubernatorial campaign trail. Walker is what he has always been: a longtime supporter of this agenda “who co-sponsored right-to-work legislation as a lawmaker and supports the policy.”
Read Next: John Nichols on Rahm Emanuel’s mayoral election
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