November 6, 2013

THROWDOWN THURSDAY: Election Results You Probably Missed

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Tuesday night, I watched the election results come in with the Tompkins County Democratic Committee. It was a great reminder that election night is not only about the big races in Virginia and New York City, but also the little ones in towns and villages all over the country — the ones that will actually affect our daily lives. With that thought in mind, here are a few elections you may have missed on Tuesday.

Alabama’s First Congressional District

Republican Jo Bonner’s resignation from Congress earlier this year triggered this special election. The two Republican candidates were State Senator Bradley Byrne and real estate developer and Tea Party activist, Dean Young. The race assumed the narrative that has become common among recent Republican primaries: An “establishment” candidate versus a political neophyte Tea Party candidate. Byrne, the establishment candidate, had support from members of Congress, Super PACs, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce  and even groups that have supported Tea Party candidates like Ted Cruz whereas Young, a member of the Tea Party, was relying on conservative anger at all politicians, including Byrne, to win. Despite the fact that Byrne outraised Young by more than 3-to-1, Byrne was able to defeat Young by only four points.

I don’t know whether this shows that the Tea Party is still alive and well or that this is the last death throe of an extremist political movement. I’m not sure we should read too much into what this predicts. Rather, I think this is a useful illustration of Republican politics in 2013, and more broadly, the choices that Republicans have been grappling with since 2010. If you want to understand the Tea Party versus establishment dynamic that is tearing the Republican Party asunder, look no further than Alabama’s First District’s primary election.

New York’s Proposition 6 Failed to Pass

Five statewide ballot measures passed in New York yesterday — only one failed. That ballot measure, Proposition 6, proposed raising the mandatory retirement age of judges on the State Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals from 70 to 80. A cadre of powerful law advocates including Chief Judge Jonathan Lippmann, the New York City Bar Association and the New York State Trial Lawyers Association supported the measure and the New York Times endorsed it. Still, Governor Andrew Cuomo was a quiet opponent of the measure, which would have limited his ability to appoint judges to these courts. Critics also complained that the bill did not extend to lower courts where most of the judiciary’s work takes place.

The reason this race is so interesting is that it shows a clash of two powerful men who both claimed not to be too actively involved in the campaign. Judge Lippmann, though he has made his support known to organizations and editorial boards, has said that he’s steered clear of the ethical implications of being involved with the Super PAC, Justice for All, the measure’s primary supporter. Governor Cuomo has said that he is not mobilizing for the repeal of the measure, but there are conflicting reports as to whether he tried to kill the bill in the state senate. The only proposition to lose in the ballot, Prop 6 demonstrates a wonky fight that happened behind the scenes and played out in an interesting way.

$15 Minimum Wage Passes

Okay, that should get your attention. No, this won’t affect your on-campus job just yet (although New Jersey also raised its minimum wage yesterday so that’s getting closer), but a town outside of Seattle known as SeaTac, looks like it has approved at $15-an-hour minimum wage (it isn’t officially reported whether it passed yet because in Washington all voting is done via mail). A $15-an-hour minimum wage would mean that in SeaTac, which includes the bustling Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, “the people who put fuel in jets may actually be able to buy a ticket on one,” according to David Rolf, Vice President of the Service Employees International Union. Spurred by fast food worker strikes across the country and the growing economic disparity, this is big victory for labor unions. We can look forward to heavy analyses about the result of this minimum wage raise in SeaTac as states, municipalities and the federal government all consider raising the minimum wage.

Cornell Professor Greg Sloan Wins in Dryden

Watching election results with the Tompkins County Democratic Committee and seeing people who have been working on local campaigns celebrate hard-earned victories is truly inspiring. This group had been knocking on doors and making phone calls for months because they care about what happens in their towns and they know the best way to effect change is through civic participation at the local level.

Then, as local candidates won and lost, something exciting happened (at least for me). If you took ASTRO 1102 in 2011 like I did, you’ll know Professor Greg Sloan. Well, last night, I got to witness my former professor, a first time candidate for public office, eek out a victory for a seat on the Town Council of Dryden. Seeing people work hard and care about local races reminded me why Election Day, even without federal elections on the ballot, can be so exciting and important!

These are the races that shape the national discourse and create the local political climates that eventually rise up to the national level. The Republican fight in Alabama, Governor Cuomo’s subtle effort against Prop 6, raising minimum wage, and local grassroots races all illustrate important and exciting issues that can be seen in an off-year election and will carry over for elections in years to come.