Pennsylvania election lesson: Infrastructure jobs can win 2018 midterms
Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers, left, lifts up Democratic candidate Conor Lamb's hand as the crowd erupts in cheers and chants during a rally, March 11. | Antonella Crescimbeni / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP

Democrat Conor Lamb may have won a seat in the U.S. House to represent a Western Pennsylvania district thanks to six words in his platform: “Jobs and Infrastructure: No More Stalling.”

Lamb, a Marine Corps veteran and prosecutor, made infrastructure jobs his highest economic priority in the special election, defeating Republican Rick Saccone, despite two campaign appearances by President Donald Trump to back Saccone in the heavily Republican district. Trump carried Pennsylvania’s 18th CD, southwest of Pittsburgh, by 20 points in the 2016 Presidential election. But Trump’s nasty attempts to ridicule the Democrat as “sham Lamb” did not help Saccone.

It is a heavily blue collar district with many steelworkers and coal miners who have been decimated by the permanent shutdown of steel mills and coal mines in the past forty years. Saccone has not conceded despite Lamb’s 627 vote victory margin.

Lamb endorsed Trump’s 25 percent tariff on imported steel seeking to revive the domestic steel industry. But enactment of a program to rebuild the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, railroads, and power grid would create far more jobs—as  many as 15 million by some estimates—including many jobs in steel and mining.

Also, an infrastructure jobs program carries none of the dangers of retaliation or even a trade war if the tariffs backfire. It sets the stage for shifting toward environmentally-friendly “green jobs” that reduce global warming CO2.

Lamb argued in a posting on his website, “High quality infrastructure is essential to economic growth here. We need modern airports, roads and bridges, locks and dams—to move people and goods into and out of our region, to attract new businesses, and create jobs.”

Lamb added, “We need functioning water treatment systems that keep storm water runoff out of our streets and guarantee safe drinking water…. Politicians talk about this all the time, but the fact is, we’ve neglected our critical infrastructure for decades…”

Lamb called for passage soon of legislation for comprehensive infrastructure construction that would also “create goods jobs here tomorrow, and unlike the massive tax cuts that just added trillions to the deficit, infrastructure investments pay for themselves.”

Thus, Lamb not only called for passage of an infrastructure jobs bill, at the same time he took aim at Trump’s tax scam, denouncing the recently approved tax bill for adding trillions to the federal deficit while lavishing tax giveaways on the rich.

Some pessimists argue that the current Republican-majority House and Senate will never enact an infrastructure jobs bill as envisioned by Lamb since their only purpose in life is to lavish more giveaways on the billionaires. But Lamb’s upset victory is the answer to that defeatist attitude: Remove from office the Republican obstructionists, end the Republican majority in the House and Senate in the mid-term elections. Put in office a majority that, like Conor Lamb, is committed to pass an infrastructure jobs bill.

Only 24 Republican-held seats in the House of Representatives need to be flipped to end GOP majority control. The same process of turning “red” districts “blue” is also underway in the U.S. Senate. In Alabama’s special Senate election last December, Democrat Doug Jones defeated accused Republican child molester Judge Roy Moore to win a Senate seat in the most Republican state in the nation. The Democrats need to flip only two more seats in the 2018 mid-term elections to end GOP majority control of the Senate.

Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and 157 other House members—all Democrats—have introduced H.Con.Res 63 “supporting efforts to enact a bold jobs and infrastructure package that benefits all Americans, not just billionaires.”

In a letter to one of his constituents, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., too vowed to strongly support a comprehensive infrastructure jobs program. He sharply denounced Trump’s so-called infrastructure plan for cutting the amount the federal government gives for construction and upkeep of highways and roads from 80 percent to 20 percent. He assailed Trump’s plan for “gutting critical rules and regulations that protect our environment, which is merely a giveaway to developers in the name of rebuilding our transportation network.”

Blumenthal said he has joined with a number of his colleagues to develop their own “Jobs and Infrastructure Plan for America’s Workers” which would allocate $1 trillion in federal revenues to modernize infrastructure and create jobs.

“Should an infrastructure bill come before Congress, please know I will actively oppose any efforts to offer giveaways to wealthy corporations, and I will not support any steps that appear to start down the path of privatization of public works.”

Blumenthal also pledged to support creation of a federal infrastructure bank, S.1169, the Building and Renewing Infrastructure and Growth in Employment (BRIDGE) Act, first drafted by his House colleague, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

A grassroots coalition calling itself “Millions of Jobs” is working to generate popular support for an infrastructure bill. “Our country is in need of a major overhaul to propel its infrastructure into the 21st Century and put people to work with family sustaining jobs,” the coalition declares on it’s web site. “This means transitioning away from fossil fuels, better serving traditionally underfunded communities and ensuring that our bridge, freeways, and public transportation are safe and efficient for all users.” The coalition cites an estimate by the American Society of Civil Engineers that $4.6 trillion is needed over the next 10 years to repair and rebuild the nation’s infrastructure of which $2 trillion is currently unfunded.

The statement of purpose adds, “It also means ensuring that public infrastructure is built to serve all people, not just moneyed interests.”

Member organizations of the coalition include the American Federation of State. County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), National Education Association (NEA), Service Employees (SEIU), Communications Workers (CWA), Working Families Party, MoveOn.org, Coalition on Human Needs, Democracy for America, Indivisible,  Sierra Club, 350.org, Earthjustice—organizations with a combined membership of several million.

Conor Lamb’s victory proves that campaigning for a real infrastructure jobs program is a winning strategy in the 2018 midterm elections that will help end Republican majority control on Capitol Hill.


CONTRIBUTOR

Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler estimates he has written 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper. He lives with his wife Joyce in Sequim, Wash. His new book, “News From Rain Shadow Country,” is a selection of writings covering his childhood and youth growing up on a dairy farm near Sequim in the 1950s and his retirement on the family farm in recent years. Tim’s much anticipated complete memoirs will be out soon.

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