Election Roundup

Virginia's new governor, Terry McAuliffe

The argument that independent voters have wearied of Tea Party shenanigans got a boost from the election results last night as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie overwhelmed his little known Democratic opponent and Democrat Terry McAuliffe leaned in for a win in Virginia. A GOP pragmatist supported by business interests also defeated a tea party republican candidate in Alabama in a congressional primary run-off.

Christie is already being spoken of for the 2016 presidential run and is apparently halfway through a weight-loss effort that seems timed for the same. Christie drew voters from across party, economic and racial lines and his campaign is being touted as a model for other Republicans following the logic that the public is fed up with conservative extremism that helped propel the budget standoff and federal shutdown. I am not as convinced that Christie’s success makes the case that a more affable, “reasonable” face will solve GOP problems with national elections that liberates the party from re-evaluating its social and economic positions. Christie may offer not a case study in drawing Dems and Independents, but a unique case in governing a blue state from the right; he can be far from affable after all, just ask a New Jersey teacher. His victory yesterday could owe more to his impressive performance in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy last year and the absence of a strong Democrat alternative than his ability to build bridges with people who don't think like him.

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In Virginia, McAuliffe eked out a smaller-than-expected victory over conservative Republican Atorney General Ken Cuccinelli. AP exit polls found Cuccinelli fared well among core conservative constituents - tea partyers, gun owners and rural voters. But the victor, McAuliffe, held advantages among unmarried women, voters who called abortion a top issue and the vote-rich Washington suburbs. Conservative pundits are arguing that widespread disappointment with Obamacare significantly weakened McAuliffe’s lead in the final stretch, fully 80 percent of voters who described themselves as Obamacare opponents supported Cuccinelli and, according to CNN, almost 30 percent of Virginia voters said health care was the most important issue in the race.

But as a candidate McAuliffe had significant weaknesses all his own, including lack of experience, questionable business practices and Clintonian associations that for a certain percentage of folk made him unpalatable. He is apparently considering an effort to out-Christie Christie. Last night he said, "Over the next four years most Democrats and Republicans want to make Virginia a model of pragmatic leadership. This is only possible if Virginia is the model for bipartisan cooperation."

Rolling the Dice: New Yorkers approved a constitutional change by a wide margin (57 percent) in a referendum that will OK more casinos in northern and western regions of the state. The state’s Catholic conference had opposed casino expansion. In September the conference urged a rejection of new casinos: "Even if the state does realize economic benefits envisioned by our elected officials, we voters must also consider the potential for negative consequences. The Catholic Church teaches that gambling is a morally neutral act and that games of chance “are not in themselves contrary to justice” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2413). However, the Catechism also warns that “the passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement” and becomes morally unacceptable when it deprives an individual of what is necessary to provide for his/her needs and those of others.

"When gambling as a revenue stream becomes overly prevalent in a society, the risks associated with problem gambling multiply."

Two votes, two coasts: Voter referendums in New Jersey and Washington state offer some evidence that nationally voters place more faith in the equalizing and poverty relief effects of the minimum wage then free market critics of the policy. In New Jersey voters approved an increase of the state's minimum wage and, more important, allowing future automatic cost-of-living adjustments to it. The SeaTac "Good Jobs Initiative" to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for workers in Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and at airport-related businesses was winning 54 to 46 percent, with 3,283 votes counted Tuesday night.

“This means that the people who put fuel in jets may actually be able to buy a ticket on one,” said David Rolf, a vice president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Washington state already has the nation's highest state minimum wage at $9.19 an hour.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour and supporters of a hike in the minimum have been watching this contest closely. The federal minimum wage is at a historic low in buying power during a period of high unemployment, growing economic inequity and high corporate profit.

Under the mail-in voting system in Washington state, ballots mailed with Tuesday’s postmark are still counted once they come in, so it may be a while before the final result of the SeaTac referendum can be declared. The same is true for another referendum in Washington that would have made the state the first in the nation to require labeling for genetically modified food-like products. Right now the measure is losing by a 10 point margin (55 percent no; 45 percent yea) that critics of the labeling law say is insurmountable.

The result so far is a marked reversal from previous polling which had found wide support (as much as two-thirds) for the GMO labels. Opponents of GMO labeling, backed by corporate ag- and pesticide-giant Monsanto and other large agribusinesses, outspent proponents by a ratio of nearly 3-to-1. At about $24 million the initiative campaign has been one of the costliest in state history. A list-minute television blitz of negative ads appear to have turned public opinion against GMO labels.

Rocky Mountain High Tax: In Colorado, voters set on a rate of 25 percent to apply to recreational marijuana sales. The state says it will apply the proceeds to regulating the newly legalized drug and building schools. Six of 11 rural counties refused to approve secession. Not sure if this means we will soon be seeing the end of efforts to return to a Greek city-state model of democracy.

Colorado voters also emphatically rejected (65 to 35 percent) a tax increase and a restructuring that went along with it. The new revenue was intended to shore up the state’s public schools and early childhood education. Gov. John Hickenlooper had risked considerable political capital to support Amendment 66, whose passage he said would constitute "the most comprehensive education-reform initiative in the history of the United States."

The measure represented the first attempt at restructuring school financing in two decades in Colorado and would have generated $950 million in new revenue. The new money was ear-marked for K-12 education and would have meant more support for preschools, full-day kindergarten, additional support for English-language learners and locally determined innovations such as longer school days and years.

Perhaps Colorado residents were not opposed to more money for schools as much as they didn’t like the tax restructuring that accompanied the measure. Amendment 66 would have replaced the state’s flat tax system with a more progressive tax. The rate for taxable income below $75,000 would have increased from 4.6 percent to 5 percent and up to 5.9 percent for those with taxable income above $75,000.

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