Every Race, Every Year: Lessons Learned from 2010 to 2012

Looking back on this year—both the amazing success we had in November’s election and the incredible attacks working people faced from state legislators—one thing becomes very clear: we need to make voting for every race, every election year, a higher priority.

I mean, Michigan. We all saw what happened in Michigan: a big win for anti-worker Republicans in 2010, leading to fights over formerly-unthinkable policy choices like shoveling public school dollars to out-of-state corporations or dissolving elected local governments to replace them with an “emergency financial manager” more to Gov. Rick Snyder’s liking. And—immediately after an election cycle that overturned Snyder’s “emergency manager” law and diminished his party’s state legislative majority—Snyder and his allies decided to push ahead with a shocking, last-minute bill undermining collective bargaining and a new emergency manager law.

The Michigan disaster stands out, but was part of a two-year pattern of awful governing from 2010 victors in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Maine and Ohio. The right to vote, public schools, workers’ rights and good jobs all came under attack.

A must-read piece in today’s New York Times looks at the big donors who invested in state legislatures to get these results:

Much of the groundwork for the quick victory was laid months and years before by a loose network of donors, strategists and conservative political groups that has sought to win Republican control of legislatures around the country and limit unions’ political power. Their bet: that money invested in local elections would yield concrete policy victories that could not be had in Washington.

Where the big-spending conservative groups active in this year’s presidential race had little to show for their millions of dollars, the state efforts were strikingly successful.

Through organizations like ALEC, corporate lobbyists are trying to rig state laws—which often have even more impact than federal laws—towards them and away from workers, consumers and families.

One thing that these legislators are particularly keen on is using their temporary position of power to entrench themselves. Michigan and Wisconsin’s anti-union bills are just one example of an effort to tilt the balance of power away from working people. It’s an unfortunate coincidence that their big 2010 wins came right ahead of the once-a-decade redistricting process, in which the maps that are used to elect members of the U.S. House and state legislative bodies get redrawn. Republicans won in 9 of Michigan’s 14 districts, in 12 of Ohio’s 16 districts and in 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 districts thanks to clever maps like these—even as Democrats won the presidential and Senate races in each of those states.

Now, as National Journal reports, many state legislators are looking to use their power rig the next presidential election, too. Under one such proposal, electoral-college votes in these states would be awarded not by state but by Congressional district—using the very maps that Republican majorities just drew to maximize their advantage. In Pennsylvania, to take just one example, that would mean that even as President Obama won 52% of the state’s votes, he would end up with about 40% of the state’s electoral votes.

This isn’t inevitable. We’re very proud of our record of paying attention to these issues and focusing on key state legislative races. The majorities that swept into power in the 2010 elections in Minnesota shut down the state government and pushed divisive attacks on the right to vote and public schools. So Working America put a heavy focus on holding these legislators accountable—and helped pro-worker candidates win in key seats to flip the majority in both the state House and Senate.

There’s yet another opportunity, in 2014, to turn back the tide of 2010—governors and state legislators across the country will have to come before voters. And we’ll be keeping a close eye on who has been looking out for us, and who hasn’t.

The real lesson of the amazing contrast between the 2010 elections and the 2012 elections is this: vote. Get your friends and family, your coworkers and neighbors to vote. Not just for President, but every time you have a chance to go to the polls and in every race that appears on your ballot.