Tag Archives: Maine

State Initiatives Move the Needle on Key Issues in USA Elections

New Orleans  Obvious disclosure:  I’m a huge proponent of the strategic and tactical value of local and statewide initiative on our issues to build organizational power and actually win campaign results.   This is obvious given the number of living wage, lifeline utility, sales tax on food & medicine, generic drug, minimum wage increase, and single member district measures we put on the ballot – and mostly won – before voters in cities and states throughout the country with ACORN.  When people are given the opportunity to speak and be counted, and when organizations prove they have both the wherewithal and the courage to put the questions before them, the needle moves.  Sometimes it moves with us, and sometimes it moves against us, but, doggone it, it moves!

In the elections around the country it moved yesterday in some interesting ways, so let’s look at a couple with undoubtedly more to come:

  • In Michigan I had called attention recently to a number of measures where unions were willing to take their case to the voters on important collective bargaining issues.  There were mixed results.  The preemptive effort to ward off “wisconsinitis” and protect the public employees bargaining rights in the constitution failed, though it may have immunized the state in the future, which is critical.  On the other hand the powers of “emergency managers” to take over schools and cities and reject existing collective bargaining contracts won decisively.
  • Teachers, and this is mostly the NEA, were able to turn back statewide initiatives by so-called school “reformers” masking as hard right turners in Idaho and South Dakota and protect both collective bargaining and tenure in those states.
  • In California upending all of the Debbie Downers and pollsters that were signally that Governor Jerry Brown was going down, voters decisively voted to raise their taxes to try and rebuild the once great public school system in that state.  This is the first successful pushback to “repeal” the impact of the Howard Jarvis property tax limitations from over 30 years ago that have crippled public funding.  This is huge!
  • Maryland and my friends at Casa de Maryland have much to celebrate having not only won a state-based “DREAM” act through the legislature but also winning voter approval to the measure in the shadow of the White House.  We’re going to win DREAM soon, I would bet.
  • On protest votes on Obamacare voters in Alabama, Wyoming, and Montana on health exchanges:  I’m glad I only got to Montana for fish and fun, because my brothers and sisters there are drinking bad water before voting these days.  Florida voted “yes” which should have been a message to Romney, but whatever for the 47%, eh?  It doesn’t matter though since federal law preempts state measures in the USA.  The tide is moving out on this rightwing resistance.  Even the business-based conservative Times-Picayune in New Orleans editorialized a couple of weeks ago in our solid red state that Republican Governor Bobby Jindal was a fool to not take “free” federal money for three years to provide Medicaid support for Louisiana citizens.  Their message was essentially “don’t play national politics with the lives of Louisiana poor people.”  A lot of these governors are going to be getting this message about reality now.
  • Remember that Planned Parenthood is still fighting in the trenches state-by-state to protect its health services program after the ACORN-style Congressional scam attack, well in Florida voters lined up to say that state funding for their programs and others around birth control were fine with them.
  • On other “wedge” issues dividing modern voters, two more states, Maryland and Maine are ok with gay marriage.  My bet is that the Supreme Court will be watching these state plebiscites with decisions coming before it soon on this issue.  Washington and Colorado were OK with legalizing marijuana (yes, I can already hear the advertisements about being a “mile high” there!), but Oregon said no.  Unclear how this will sort out since the US and the Attorney-General are still insisting anything about marijuana is a crime, but Latin America is also moving this way with Uruguay and other countries believing we must legalize to stop the Mexican drug cartels.  Change is coming on both of these issues no doubt!

Let the people speak and be prepared to follow.

We need to put more living wage and minimum wage efforts on the ballot locally and statewide in 2014.  We need to look at some of these other issues and assess what it takes and start making plans.


Labor versus Business: From Economic Wars to Culture Wars?

Nmuralew Orleans I wonder with the diminishing strength of unions whether we are about to finally move from front page economic wars to the back page culture wars so much enjoyed by the right.  Not able to fully move women back to the kitchen or African-Americans back to the plantation, perhaps they feel they will now have more success eliminating the history of workers altogether.

A couple of things brought this to mind.

Early this morning setting up Citizen Wealth and Social Policy at a conference being held by the Association of Labor Educators, I listened to a fellow from Stoneybrook complaining to a colleague about how union leaders themselves never referred to their members any more as workers or a part of the working class, but instead talked endlessly of losing “middle-class jobs,” assaults on the “middle class,” and so forth.

Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin seemed to make sure he was always a long way out of camera shot from the statue honoring populist politician and labor backer, Robert Follette, the legendary Wisconsin freedom fighter, during the recent evisceration of public workers rights in that state, where those same rights had been pioneered.  Now it seems there was a big controversy in Maine over a 36-foot mural in the state Department of Labor building there which depicted loggers, shoemakers, shipyard workers, and others, but also had a panel on the big Jay, Maine paper strike among other things.  The Governor Paul LePage, another newly elected Republican, has ordered it removed according to one of the last labor reporters on the newspaper beat, Steven Greenhouse.  He thought it offended some business folks, even though it has been up for 3 years with no real problems.

These are more than just canaries in the mine shaft.  The history of workers and the working class in America (and elsewhere!) has always been a behind-the-doors, back-of-the-house specialty.  Hearing how attendance has dropped among the labor educators as university programs have been pared down, unions forced to eliminate education programs, and states from California to wherever in bitter political purges of funding for such work, it is clearly a situation where there’s going to be even less and less that gets out there.  The chance that what emerges will find its way into the hands of workers themselves is even more unlikely.

The signals are clear that the right wants to bleach out the last of the blue collar as they glorify greed, bankers, and high-tech, even while we bailout them out and their secretaries print out their e-mails for them.  It feels like now that they see blood in the water and feel the whip in their hand, that the effort to make workers invisible and erase what remains of their work, honor, and tradition in our culture will build up force to try to sweep everything in the way of its rage.

No longer able to command the front page with news of strikes or settlements, it appears now we will find our place in the Arts section as more obituaries are written to mark the passing of our times.

We better stop it now, while we still can!