Friday, December 14, 2012


Much is being made of the recent actions by the Michigan legislature,
and signed into law by the state’s governor, which established this
northern, usually liberal, area as the 24th in the nation to be a
right-to-work state. As a long-time center for organized labor and
pro-union issues, this came as a surprise to some. But as reports from
Michigan have it, this controversial action came about not because
there is a groundswell of anti-union sentiment in Michigan. It occurred,
at least in part, because the head of the United Auto Workers (UAW) in
Detroit tried to put union rights in the state constitution. This provoked
Governor Rick Snyder, who up to now has been less likely to take
strong conservative actions in his state (as have many other Republican
governors in the nation, including Mitch Daniels (Indiana), John Kasich
(Ohio), Scott Walker (Wisconsin), Bob McDonnell (Virginia), Nikki Haley
(South Carolina), Chris Christie (New Jersey), Susana Martinez (New
Mexico), Bobb Jindal (Lousiana) and Rick Scott (Florida). The UAW
chief evidently went too far, and the cost to his union and to organized
labor has been high. A similar action took place in Wisconsin recently
when union demands became too high.

Going too far is not, however, only a practice of unions and those on the
left. In the national elections just held, a generally close election which
returned a Democratic president to office, kept his Democratic party in
control of the U.S. senate, but kept the Republicans in the majority in the
U.S. house, and in control of most state legislatures, there was at least one
state in which the results reversed the previous election decisively. That
was Minnesota where the GOP had won control of the state house and
senate by a surprising margin in 2010, and almost won the governorship.
In 2012, however, the GOP leaders in the state legislature went along with
their very conservative wing in placing two constitutional amendments on
the ballot. One was on voter ID, and the other was a so-called marriage
amendment. The former was popular, and was expected to pass, but the
latter was clearly going too far for the Minnesota voter sensibility, and the
Democrats (in this state called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party or
DFL) were able to successfully mobilize their voters around these
amendments. Both failed on election day, and several GOP legislators
lost their re-election.

In Missouri and Indiana, two GOP U.S. senate candidates went too far
in explaining their positions on abortion, and lost seats they should have
easily won.

When each national political party, and their state parties, insist on going
too far on political and social issues, they risk the wrath of voters. There
are voices on the left and right today who call for, even demand, some of
these controversial issues be enacted into law. I suggest the outcome will
be the same in future elections if they do,

In Minnesota, again, party officials and legislators face an issue they have
been putting off for decades, but which now threatens the success of each
party in the future. Minnesota is one of the few remaining states which uses
a precinct caucus system in the process of nominating its candidates.
Attendance at these caucuses is exceedingly low, usually 1 or 2% of eligible
voters, but the system of endorsements has dominated candidate nominations
and party affairs. Activists on the left and right have undemocratically imposed
themselves on more centrist liberal and conservative majorities in each party,
and caused abnormal election results for decades. In 2012 the victim in
Minnesota was the Republican Party, but in previous cycle, the caucus system
has hurt the DFL. Interestingly, the leadership of both parties now
agree on moving up the primary elections from August to June (the primary
had been in September). DFL Governor Mark Dayton has long been an
outspoken critic of the old endorsement system. In fact, he upset the
DFL-endorsed candidate in 2010 to win his party’s nomination. Having been
burned one time too often, many GOP leaders now agree it is time to do
something about the dysfunctional Minnesota system. Hanging over their
heads is the fact that the 2012 caucuses saw a takeover of the party by a tiny
Ron Paul faction which, in turn, then nominated a very weak candidate for the
US. senate seat in that election. In 2013, with bipartisan support, the return to
a primary system could happen. If not, look for more bizarre election results
in the Gopher State.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.   All rights reserved.

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