Across the nation, elections signal trend against right-wing politics

The Republican pro-corporate agenda took a beating in many states Nov. 8 in what could be a sign of things to come in the 2006 midterm elections.

Across the country, organized labor was the vital ingredient. “Working families rejected the anti-worker, radical right-wing agenda of our nation’s current leadership,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “These elections show that the tide will turn because working people are fed up with the big business special interest agenda and are ready to get involved to turn our country in a different direction. Unions give them a way to make that happen.”

Anna Burger, chair of the Change to Win coalition, said, “Voters have shown today that they are tired of policies that put corporate profits ahead of the well-being of working families. Americans have sent a message. It’s time for Congress and the administration to listen.”

In California, a massive grassroots effort led by a united labor movement soundly beat all the initiatives backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his corporate sponsors.

“This victory was the result of a massive effort by all of California’s unions,” Art Pulaski, head of the California Labor Federation, said in a statement. “When Arnold ran for office, he promised to have everyone at the table. Instead, he built a private tent in a protected courtyard to share cigars with his corporate allies.”

Pulaski challenged the governor to now “put derision and divisiveness aside” and “work with us to improve California for all of us, not just for his corporate donors.”

Earlier this year Schwarzenegger launched a campaign to bypass the Legislature, seize power over the budget and cut organized labor out of political action. Initiatives he proposed or backed would have given him big powers to cut state spending including education and social services, hobbled political fund raising by unions, and extended teachers’ probation period and curbed their labor rights. Another measure would have given responsibility for redistricting congressional and legislative seats to retired judges instead of the Legislature.

Instead of galvanizing voters behind him, Schwarzenegger’s movie-style posturing and attempts to portray nurses, teachers, firefighters and other public workers as “special interests” backfired. Unions including SEIU, AFSCME, teachers, nurses, police and the California Labor Federation came together in the Alliance for a Better California, which mobilized a months-long grassroots labor and community effort throughout the state.

In a post-election statement, the Alliance credited the “ tens of thousands of volunteers all over California who worked tirelessly through the last few months to make this happen.”

In the end, Schwarzenegger’s approval rating dropped into the 30s, while 60 percent of voters sharply criticized his calling the Special Election, at a cost to taxpayers of over $50 million.

Two other measures the governor backed — a requirement to notify parents when a minor seeks an abortion, and a pharmaceutical industry initiative for a voluntary drug discount — also failed, as did consumer-written initiatives for a drug discount and to re-regulate electricity.

In other California results, two Los Angeles City Council vacancies were filled by strong pro-labor candidates. At press time recent high school graduate Shane Brinton appeared elected to the North Humboldt Union School Board, and San Francisco passed an advisory measure against recruiters in public schools, and a ban on hand guns.

In New Jersey, Democrat Jon Corzine won the race for governor, 53-43 percent, in a victory largely due to the labor movement’s united effort. Corzine, who has a 100 percent rating by the AFL-CIO, said there’s no way to win anything in New Jersey without the trade union movement.

In Virginia, moderate Democrat Tim Kaine won by 51-46 percent despite heavy spending by right-wing Republican Jerry Kilgore and a last-minute visit by President Bush, and Democrats were poised to gain seats in the Legislature.

In a departure from national trends, New York City’s incumbent Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg was elected to a second term, beating Democrat Fernando Ferrer by 19 percentage points. Bloomberg’s margin was lower than the 37-point lead polls had predicted. Voter turnout was only 25 percent. Bloomberg outspent Ferrer by tens of millions of dollars.

In Lawrence, Mass., community and peace activist Martina Cruz won handily for School Committee (see story on this page).

Voters in Wilkinsburg, Pa., preserved African American and female representation by electing Kim Hoots as district judge, Ernest Hester as tax collector, Barbara Ervin as First Ward borough council representative and Denise Winebrenner Edwards to a third term as Third Ward representative.

In Dover, Pa., voters ousted the eight school board members who introduced “intelligent design” into the science curriculum.

In Lorain, Ohio, a ballot initiative to let Wal-Mart claim land now zoned residential was defeated by a labor-led grassroots effort, 60-40 percent, despite $1 million spent by the corporate giant.

More election coverage will appear in upcoming issues.

Rosalio Muñoz, Denise Winebrenner Edwards, Bruce Bostick, Lee Dlugin, Emile Schepers and Dan Margolis contributed to this story.