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In the Midwest, Downballot Races and Ballot Measures are Arguably as Important as the Presidential Election

With the election quickly approaching, all eyes on are the Obamney campaigns, but organized labor is looking to regain its voice in Midwest swing states like Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin through a host of other races and issues. The rise and fall of the middle class is contingent upon the rise and fall of workers’ rights.

Despite wavering Democratic support over the past decade, re-electing President Obama is vital to the health of the labor movement. But as Theo Anderson writes for In These Times, downballot races and other issues are key to a successful election night 2012.


Tonight, PBS will premiere a documentary titled As Goes Janesville which looks at Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s hometown and how it has coped since the loss of the GM plant that had been the center of its economy for nearly a century. In Anderson’s article, “Workers’ Rights at the Ballot Box,” this question is extrapolated upon to consider the entire political landscape in the Midwest swing states such as Wisconsin:

…the question of where good jobs will come from in the future, and what constitutes a good job, are very much open to debate in the Great Lakes Midwest. Tim Cullen, a Democratic candidate running for the Wisconsin state Senate at the time As Goes Janesville was being filmed, attributes the rise of the nation’s middle class to the unions and the strong manufacturing sector. “But it’s changed,” he says, “and I believe the income gap is going to grow for probably the next 50 years.” (Cullen later won his contest.)

In another scene, Republican Gov. Scott Walker explains to ABC Supply President Diane Hendricks, one of his wealthy donors, in response to the question of whether Wisconsin can be turned into a “completely red state,” that the key is to “divide and conquer” the unions. The first step, he said, was to abolish the collective bargaining rights of public employees.


While the GOP has relied on the Citizens United v. FEC decision to fund SuperPACs with dark money and flood the airwaves with misleading ads, labor is going the traditional organizing route to get out the vote and push ballot measures that protect the middle class. This is especially true in Michigan where voters will be able to vote on a ballot initiative that would amend the state’s constitution to protect collective bargaining rights.

Polling has shown that the issue is dividing the state. Last month, 48 percent of respondents were in favor — compared to 43 percent against — according to a poll conducted by EPIC-MRA of Lansing for the Detroit Free Press and WXYZ-TV. The ballot initiative is one of six that will shape the future of Michigan politics and bring large numbers of voters to the polls.

The Right has predictably stuck to their game plan of misinformation, unveiling the unfounded full court press of wild theories such as “Michigan Ballot Measure Could Protect Drug Dealing Teachers.”

But it hasn’t entirely worked. According to Nate Silver’s popular Five Thirty Eight blog, President Obama currently has a 96.9 percent chance of winning the state. If these ballot initiatives go along party lines it will spell g-o-o-d n-e-w-s for Michigan workers.


The election in Ohio is much closer than in Michigan and Wisconsin and features a prominent pro-labor voice, Sen. Sherrod Brown, being challenged by Tea party favorite and State Treasurer Josh Mandel. Much like in Wisconsin, the sudden influx of dark money has led the two parties to take different strategies in their campaigns. According to Anderson’s ITT piece:

This Senate race has also become a test case of the influence of Super PAC spending in state-level elections. Both parties consider the Senate seat critical to their fortunes in November, and outside groups have already spent a reported $15 million on the race. They’re expected to spend at least $6 million more before the election.

That outside spending is heavily tilted toward Mandel, and most of it goes toward television ads. Democrats, meanwhile, are pinning their hopes on mounting a stronger on-the ground presence than Republicans can muster. That means old-fashioned knocking on doors, setting up voter-registration booths and helping voters get to the polls. Unions are the heart and soul of that strategy.

Romney has lost favor in the Buckeye State after attending rallies to support SB5, the anti-worker bill that was defeated by a wide margin last year. The bill was similar to Gov. Scott Walker’s in that it cut collective bargaining rights for state employees, but went further as it included teachers, police, and firefighters. Sen. Brown was vehemently opposed to the bill and gained union support in its wake.

Still, polling numbers in Ohio are much closer than in Wisconsin and Michigan with Five Thirty Eight giving President Obama a 79.1 percent chance to win the state. Sen. Brown enjoys a 91.8 percent chance of winning by the same metric.


This election will have a serious impact on the fate of our generation’s chances at a middle class lifestyle and an even more immediate impact on coming retirement for current parents and grandparents. Volunteers are going door-to-door to help voters decipher the facts from the lies. It will be interesting to see how the labor movement uses the attention of the big election to further its own goal of cooling the low boil of anti-worker sentiment in the middle of the country.


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