Whole lotta shakin’ goin on
A closer look at Election Day fallout
As CL goes to press, the bare-knuckled, ball-grabbin’ brawl in Florida over the missing and murdered presidential election roars on, with lawyers, pols and pitchmen frantically slapping in reinforcement for this King Hell Last-Man-Standing Texas Tag-Team Death Match. All we need is a coupla’ screaming bruisers in Day-Glo ski masks to round out this inspiring tableau of American democracy.
But in the meantime, CL has gotten beyond the horse race, and is ready to examine some of the winners and losers in last week’s elections - national, state and just down the street. Hang on:
Presidential winner — LOSER! Whoever goes on to the White House will face a nasty fight to get there; an angry, bitterly divided Congress; and an opposition party (and half of the electorate) absolutely convinced that he stole the election. Welcome to the neighborhood, chump.
Money — WINNER! Big money has once again been officially declared the winner of this year’s races. George W. Bush soaked up more than $184 million in contributions (pausing long enough to flip the golden finger at the federal spending caps required of those little people obliged to scramble for federal matching funds during the primaries), much of it from banking, health care, defense and energy interests.
That left poor ol’ Al Gore down in the slums, clutching a mere $133 million he managed to scrape together from labor unions, trial lawyers and individual contributors.
But those numbers hardly tell the whole tale. In a year in which congressional races spent almost $1 billion on campaigns, more than three-fourths of those bribes — uh, contributions — went to incumbents.
But can a mere $1 billion actually purchase both houses of Congress? You bet your ass! In the Senate, where candidates of both parties raised more than $388 million, 85 percent of the races went to the biggest spenders, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. In the House, which pulled in more than $562 million, they really know the value of a dollar: 94 percent of the top-spending reps cruised to victory.
And where does the majority of this cash come from? According to the Center, between hard and “soft” (unregulated) money, industrial interests are by far the biggest givers, pumping $500 million to Republicans and $350 million to Democrats. Labor, on the other hand, kicked in about $50 million, most of it to Democrats.
Marijuana — WINNER! That Funny Reefer Man went to the polls in Nevada and Colorado to vote on medical marijuana, and smoked the competition. And in California, a resolution calling for non-violent drug offenders not to be jailed also passed. (In Georgia, however, the re-election of Rep. Bob Barr, the indefatigable drug warrior who refused to let D.C. reveal the results of its own medical marijuana initiative and who has authored several bits of legislation targeting such resolutions elsewhere, was returned to office.)
Asset Forfeiture — LOSER! The practice of charging money or property with “crimes” and then seizing it — whether or not anyone is actually convicted of criminal activity — was first instituted during the ’80s as part of the War on Drugs. Embraced by federal and local law enforcement agencies as a great way to acquire funding, cars and property, the technique has become increasingly popular, as states and municipalities “forfeit” the property of drunk drivers, hooker aficionados and absentee landlords, among others.
Led by such diverse opponents as Republican Sen. Henry Hyde and Democrat John Conyers, an anti-forfeiture backlash has been building, and voters in Oregon and Utah passed resolutions reforming or otherwise limiting some of the excesses of the practice. Their Massachusetts counterparts, on the other hand, declined to do so.
Ralph Nader — WINNER! What? You thought garnering 3 percent of the vote and possibly swinging the election to Big Pollution’s hand-picked candidate qualifies as a loss? Haven’t you been listening? In addition to getting a national media platform for his anti-corporatist, anti-special interest crusade, it’s also likely that a Gore loss will do precisely what Nader said he wanted to do: move the Democratic Party to the left. Those who think otherwise have forgotten the First Rule of Terrorism: Only under intolerable conditions will revolution erupt. Four more years of mushy neo-liberalism won’t pour people into the streets, but a Bush administration gleefully dismantling environmental and social programs might.
As for Ralph’s not reaching the 5 percent mark for federal matching funds next time: That was just gravy to keep the Greens fired up all along. And while many Greenies who backed Nader while hoping for a Gore victory may disagree that Nader’s side “won,” they’re the losers, not Nader. It’s realpolitik at its most basic and ruthless; ask the Palestinians sending their children to throw rocks at combat troops. They know the rules. (In any case, the election-night spectacle of various stern-faced commentators earnestly demanding to know how Nader felt about “taking votes away from Gore” was itself entertaining. How many other losing candidates were expected to be ashamed of pulling votes from their opponents? Funny times, these are.)
On a local front, election fallout — though less spectacular than the national results — nonetheless settled in various nooks and crannies of the state.
Gov. Roy Barnes — WINNER! No, he wasn’t on the ballot, but the futures of his party and policies most certainly were, and both came up winners. Although Republicans in the state Senate picked up three new seats, making for a 29-25 Dem/GOP split, that loss was somewhat offset by Dems claiming at least one new seat — and maybe more, once one runoff and two recounts are complete — making for a 103-77 party breakdown so far. The result, in any case, is pretty much a “status quo” signal from Georgia voters — signifying either satisfaction or inattention; in politics, either one is good.
But even more telling is the message sent by the success of lawmakers who backed Barnes’ education-reform plan, with which Republicans — and particularly State School Superintendent Linda Schrenko — had hoped to beat Dems over the head. Instead, voters handily returned all the key members of Barnes’ reform team to office, while Schrenko’s frenetic campaign to throw the bums out was largely fruitless.
Tom Murphy — WINNER! No, not because he managed to edge out an unknown GOP challenger by a mere 505 votes. The tough fight that Murphy, the longest-serving statehouse speaker in the country, had to wage must have disheartened the Bremen Democrat as a tide of Republican-leaning outsiders starts to lap at his rural district. No, Murphy’s victory lies in his upcoming role overseeing redistricting — a goal to which he has frequently alluded in the past, and one the state GOP would have dearly loved to deny him.
BOB IRVIN — LOSER! The low-key Atlanta Republican was sacked as State House minority leader when his party lost two seats to the opposition.
Bob Barr — WINNER! While two of his fellow House impeachment leaders lost last week (including California’s James Rogan, who spent more than $6 million — $68 per vote — on his futile effort), Barr once again piled up the few extra percentage points to hold his seat, despite a massive infusion of funds and effort on behalf of his opponent. And Barr’s win also bolsters a spectrum-spanning contingent of e-privacy warriors, who have found in Barr a die-hard conservative willing to join the fight against government intrusion (although he’s still pretty soft on corporate intrusion). And let’s face it, the press also wins: Whatever else he may be, Yosemite Bob makes for damn good copy in a congressional delegation that’s otherwise pretty tepid.
Gerbils — LOSERS! Despite the efforts of Barr’s opponents to tar him as “soft on porn” (insert your own punchline) by defending the makers of “crush” videos from congressional measures aimed at, um, stamping out images of scantily clad ladies in spike heels smashing small animals to death. Jack-booted thugs are one thing, but jack-booted thugettes in latex doing the Ferret Fandango — rrowrr. Hookers, hamsters and heavy artillery: a Party Pack for the New Millennium.
Environment — WINNER (kinda)! The return to the Statehouse of most incumbents means the Barnes administration’s general pro-environment push will continue. However, metro voters couldn’t quite figure out how green they wanted to be. In Atlanta, voters approved a measure that will provide more parks, as well as improving streets, bridges and sidewalks. But while Gwinnett County voters passed a ballot measure levying a sales tax to pay for parks and other improvements, they also returned to office the Paver in Chief, County Commission Chairman Wayne Hill, under whose benevolent gaze the county gained a national reputation as something of a Developer Disneyland. Meanwhile, Cobb and Douglas just said no to new sales taxes for parks.
Similarly mixed results greeted the League of Conservation Voters, the environmental coalition hoping to put more green-conscious lawmakers in the Legislature. While five of their seven Georgia Senate choices won, only 10 of 16 House endorsees came up winners.
Media — WINNERS! Just as it seemed like all those expense accounts were going to close out, the Florida Voter Lottery pays off with a news-weasel jackpot. A week (at least) of hanging around Florida doing location shots! More jawbone time for talking heads! Angry demonstrators! Global ridicule! It’s Christmas in November! What a country.