If you were to rely on the mainstream media for an analysis of Tuesday’s election, you might think that a Tea Party revolution is about to take hold of Washington. Yes, Rand Paul was elected; the countdown begins on his vow to eliminate entire Federal Government departments. Yes, some amazingly effective leaders such as Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold were defeated. However, in the larger picture, those concerned with creating a sustainable future can celebrate some important victories.
First of all, California voters dealt a resounding defeat to Proposition 23, which would have suspended California’s pioneering greenhouse gas reduction law, AB 32. Prop. 23 wasn’t just defeated, it was defeated 61-39. California voters said no to Texas-based oil interests. They are committed to an energy future that recognizes the externalities of fossil-based fuels, and demand a clean energy revolution. Try that on for size, Tea Party.
Second, while many sympathetic politicians lost, some stalwarts of sustainability, like Senator Barbera Boxer in California, fought off challengers. Former Denver mayor, and sustainability advocate John Hickenlooper was convincingly elected Governor of Colorado. Governor Deval Patrick was re-elected in Massachusetts, and Independent Lincoln Chafee held off a last minute challenge by Republican John Robitaille in the Rhode Island Governor’s race. Even one Republican victor, Governor-elect Rick Snyder of Michigan, offers hope, as he is a board member of The Nature Conservancy. Extremists like Sharon Angle and Christine O’Donnell were defeated. In short, while no one will confuse incoming House Speaker John Boehner as a champion of sustainability, Tuesday’s midterm election was not a disaster.
Blanche Lincoln managed to survive her primary battle with Bill Halter, but Proposition 14 passed in California:
“Under the new measure, only the top two vote-getters in a primary election — regardless of their political party — will advance to a November runoff. Currently, the top vote-getter in each party advances to the fall campaign.”
As I mentioned yesterday, this system, in Kentucky, would have left Rand Paul out of the November election. This will make get out the vote operations essential in all counties. Proposition 14, supported by the Governator, could he his last major political act as Governor.
One note to keep an eye on: California passed a similar measure in 1996, only to have it overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
This is an odd election year, with primaries, run-offs, and special elections appearing on a monthly basis. Today voters in California and Arkansas will make important decisions.
In California, voters will determine the fate of Proposition 14, which would replace the Primary system with a new system that would allow the top two vote getters to face off in November, in both California and Congressional races. If that proposed system were in place in Kentucky, where the May Senate primary was known nationally as Rand Paul’s decisive victory, in fact the two Democratic Senate candidates, Jack Conroy and Daniel Mongiardo, would face each other again in a rematch, leaving Paul, who received less votes than both Democrats, out of the November election altogether.
In California, both political parties oppose Proposition 14, because it threatens their power. California is crippled financially, with Democrats and Republicans unwilling to agree on a path forward, and with voter-driven financial restrictions on tax increases. Voters, of course, can at the same time demand spending increases through the Proposition system.
In Arkansas, Senator Blanche Lincoln is fighting for her political life in a run-off against Lt. Governor Bill Halter. Will we see a Halter-top? Unions committed to this election after Lincoln reversed her position on the Public Option and Card Check. Predictably, this is yet another centrist that will be defeated. David Brooks wrote an excellent column recently about two competing theories of change, founded in the writings of Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke:
“We Americans have never figured out whether we are children of the French or the British Enlightenment…Today, if you look around American politics you see self-described conservative radicals who seek to sweep away 100 years of history and return government to its preindustrial role. You see self-confident Democratic technocrats who have tremendous faith in the power of government officials to use reason to control and reorganize complex systems. You see polemicists of the left and right practicing a highly abstract and ideological Jacobin style of politics. The children of the British Enlightenment are in retreat. Yet there is the stubborn fact of human nature. The Scots were right, and the French were wrong. And out of that truth grows a style of change, a style that emphasizes modesty, gradualism and balance.”
Is a Halter victory a victory for the French Enlightenment? Not quite, but it is a sign that centrists, as Brooks eloquently writes, lack a clear identity. Too often, we just see what they are against, and not what they are for. Lincoln, in a desperate bid to save her political seat, took a bold step with an amendment to reform derivatives. Unfortunately, the amendment will die in committee. Lincoln only played that card when she was desperate; that was obvious to everyone.