After a hard-fought battle, Minnesota voters gave their state to John Kerry, but they also reshaped the balance of power in the state Capitol by trouncing a score of Republican state legislators. At least seven members of the state House of Representatives with “zero” labor records were beaten by labor-endorsed candidates, including several active union members. In all, 13 Republicans were defeated, leaving the GOP with only a one-vote margin of control in the House, after a decade of increasing Republican domination.

The results were an affirmation of the state’s strong progressive tradition, and a key factor was the big mobilization and turnout by labor, Minnesota AFL-CIO Communications Director Diane O’Brien told the World.

Despite membership declines, union members’ participation in the 2004 elections topped levels set in the 2000 elections, according to exit polls and AFL-CIO research. Nearly one in three Minnesota voters were union members or members of union households, and of those 64 percent voted for Kerry, up several points from four years ago.

O’Brien sees the victories in Minnesota as an example for the nation of “labor working with progressives” to win political gains in state politics. Citing the legacy of Minnesota’s Sen. Paul Wellstone, O’Brien said the state has served as a “democratic project and incubator for national change. We’re taking that role even more seriously in these times.”

Commenting on the national election results, she said, “Intimidation, fear and manipulation of public anxieties has worked for this administration. That’s not to say it’s going to continue to work for the next four years.”

In neighboring Wisconsin, Kerry eked out a narrow victory with a margin of about 12,000 votes, more than double Gore’s winning margin in 2000. The vote was buoyed by huge registration and mobilization efforts by labor and other groups, involving thousands of volunteers. Wisconsin AFL-CIO President David Newby described labor’s get-out-the-vote campaign as “magnificent, an awesome effort.” “I don’t know what else we could have done,” he commented.

With the national Bush-Cheney victory, Newby said, “I fear for Wisconsin. I fear for America. But it simply means we need to sharpen our vision, and organize like never before, both to fight back and to go on the offensive.”

Eddie Dedmon, president of the North Florida Central Labor Council in Gainesville, said he was “very disappointed” that his state had handed a win to Bush, but he saw a silver lining in a jump in the labor vote in his area, which covers five counties in northeast Florida. It was due to “plain old hard work,” he said. “We asked our members to work” on the campaign, and that “hasn’t happened in a long time.”

Dedmon attributed the Bush win to several factors. One, he said, since 2000, the Republicans have registered more voters than the Democrats. In the past, Florida had more Democrats registered than Republicans, but now they have tied. Two, the Republicans have a lot more cash. With much more limited funds, Democrats, labor and other progressive groups can’t compete in high-cost activities like direct mailings. For example, he said, the Republicans did mass mailings enclosing registration and absentee ballot request forms. “They made it so easy to register or to request a ballot.”

We have “a little bit broken hearts,” Dedmon said. “It’s so disheartening. We need to take a little time,” to study the election results and draw lessons for what’s next.

One lesson they’ll be looking at is the big win for an amendment establishing a Florida minimum wage starting at $6.15 an hour, a $1 raise over the current federal rate. In the presidential race, “middle class Americans voted on images,” said Dedmon, but the minimum wage was something concrete that a lot of people could identify with, even if they themselves were not directly affected. “People know what it means to make $5 an hour.”

The measure passed by 70-30 percent.

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org.

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CONTRIBUTOR

Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more. Previously she taught English as a second language and did a variety of other jobs to pay the bills. She has lived in six states, and is all about motherhood, art, nature and apple pie.

 

 

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