U.S. House results: Workers won but not without taking some hits

BY MARK GRUENBERG

DCCC Chair Ben Ray Luján, left, and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., gesture to a crowd of volunteers and supporters of the Democratic party at an election night event at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Washington. | Jacquelyn Martin/AP

WASHINGTON — Workers won. Women won. African American, Latino, and Native American candidates won. Democrats won. Sorry Donald Trump, you didn’t win.

In so many words, that’s what happened in the U.S. House races, and in five key governorships — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota — on Election Day 2018. Those winners join Democrats Gavin Newsom (California) and Andrew Cuomo (New York) who swept to victory in the nation’s largest and fourth-largest states. Connecticut’s Ned Lamont won, too.

And a record 99 women and counting are now U.S. House members. With few exceptions from woman-vs-woman races, they were Democrats such as Democratic Socialist Antonia Ocasio-Cortez in New York City, Lauren Underwood, an African-African nurse in Chicago’s western suburbs, and Sharice Davids, an African-American openly gay woman in Kansas. Davids ousted an incumbent Republican.

Muslim-American women Rashida Tlaib in Detroit and Ilhan Omar in Minneapolis will join them. For unionists, so will former AFL-CIO staffer Andy Levin, who succeeds his father, Sander Levin, in a Detroit-area House district.

Trump stumped for Republicans in almost all those states, though he concentrated on the Senate.

The U.S. Senate was another story, as Democrats Beto O’Rourke in Texas, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Joe Donnelly in Indiana all lost in deep-red states. Only the Donnelly race wasn’t close. Though other endangered Senate Democrats won, the Democratic ranks shrunk, as they had to defend 26 of the 35 U.S. Senate seats up for grabs.

But the Democratic takeover of the House, which was expected, was the big story of Election 2018. It also puts pro-worker lawmakers in a good position there, unlike in the GOP-run 115th Congress:

Veteran pro-worker and pro-woman Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., will now run the House Appropriations subcommittee that helps actually dole out funds for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education — and for job safety and health programs and the National Labor Relations Board.

Even as the ranking minority member of the panel, DeLauro was able to halt anti-worker GOP moves, such as an effort to let bosses keep workers’ tips.

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., who represents the city of Richmond, takes over the House Education and the Workforce Committee chair from right-wing Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., who, after the 2014 election, questioned even the need for unions to exist.

Scott is the original sponsor of the Wage Act, crafted in consultation with the AFL-CIO, to rewrite U.S. labor law to make it more worker-friendly — such as eliminating roadblocks to organizing, legalizing card-check recognition and imposing higher fines on labor law-breakers.

Scott was initially cautious in accepting the post.

“Millions of people from diverse communities across the country have come together to call for a change. They are demanding a government that works to improve the lives of all Americans. It is now our responsibility to make sure their voices are heard,” he said.

“While elections are defined by what makes us different, governing should be guided by the values and aspirations we share. The desire for access to a quality education, a good job, and affordable health care for ourselves and our families are universal values,” he said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to pursue a unifying agenda that will improve the standard of living for people from all walks of life.”

That may not be easy: The committee is especially polarized, a split its name symbolizes. It was the Education and Labor Committee until the GOP House takeover in the 1994 mid-terms. Afterwards, Republicans dumped the word “Labor” and substituted “Workforce.” Democrats restored “Labor” after their 2006 House sweep, and the GOP retaliated with “Workforce” when they took the House back eight years ago.

Johana Hayes, a progressive Democrat, won the open 5th District U.S. House seat in Connecticut, becoming the Nutmeg State’s first African-American woman U.S. representative. The National Education Association member and 2016 National Teacher of the Year ran on a platform that included strengthening the Affordable Care Act, raising the minimum wage and improving workers’ rights.

Kendra Horn was even more of a trailblazer. She became the first Native American ever elected to Congress, breaking the all-white-male all-Republican grip on Oklahoma’s congressional delegation.

Gubernatorial races were a mixed bag. Pro-worker Democrats had nowhere to go but up, holding few governorships going into the balloting. They picked up a lot, but not all they wanted.

Governors’ results are particularly important for workers. That’s because the governors will have a big say in redistricting — determining who represents you and me — in state legislatures and in Congress after the 2020 census. They’ll also be able to initiate pro-worker measures or block anti-worker brainstorms from GOP-run state legislatures. Notable results included:

Two high-profile African-American Democrats, Andrew Gillum in Florida and Ben Jealous in Maryland, lost gubernatorial races. So did party-backed Richard Cordray, who is white, in Ohio.

Gillum, who ran on an openly progressive platform of Medicare for All, raising the minimum wage and more, lost narrowly. That race may be subject to a recount, a sensitive subject in the Sunshine State.

The third high-profile African-American pro-worker progressive Democrat, Stacy Abrams in Georgia, also trailed narrowly. Her race was rife with voter repression, confusion, and dog whistles from her foe, GOP Secretary of State Brian Kemp. His office oversaw the election, and the ejection of more than one million people, mostly African-Americans, from the rolls in the last six years.

The Wisconsin gubernatorial win was particularly heartening, as Democrat Tony Evers, the labor-backed state superintendent of public instruction, ousted virulently anti-union GOP Gov. Scott Walker. It was labor’s third try at ejecting Walker, whose infamous Act 10 in 2011 brought 100,000 protesters into the streets of Madison in mid-winter that year — and emasculated public worker unions in the Badger State.

Walker’s loss also brought the only immediate post-election comment from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who was part of those protests. “Scott Walker was a national disgrace,” he said.

Minnesota’s Tim Walz now becomes the most-powerful political unionist in the U.S., as the state’s new Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor, succeeding retiring DFLer Mark Dayton. In the final stages of the campaign, labor pointed to Walker’s disasters in next-door Wisconsin — including slow job growth, unlike in Minnesota — and asked voters if they wanted “Walz or Wisconsin.” Fifty-nine percent chose Walz, an Education Minnesota member and former Mankato High School history teacher.

Labor-backed Democrat Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan will be able to veto right-wing anti-worker brainstorms coming through the GOP-run state legislature. She’ll also, as she put it, “Fix the damn roads.” And Whitmer plans to keep sending bottled water to Flint, to prevent more kids from ingesting lead, the result of a GOP-ordered disastrous switch in water sources, as well as pursuing the perpetrators.

J.B. Pritzker, backed early by the state AFL-CIO, can start to haul Illinois out of the fiscal hole his foe, incumbent GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, dug for the last four years. He’ll also put a stop to Rauner’s constant war to emasculate, if not kill, state workers’ unions.

That includes AFSCME Council 31, which represents 40,000 state and local government workers in the Land of Lincoln, as well as other government workers’ unions, such as the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the Illinois Education Association, and the state Fire Fighters Association. Rauner was so bad for workers that not only did those unions endorse Pritzker, but so did the state Federation of Police, normally no union ally.

Rep. Michelle Lujan-Grisham, R-N.M., won that state’s open gubernatorial seat, but other Latino gubernatorial hopefuls — Democrats David Garcia in Arizona and Lupe Valdez in Texas — lost. So did Paulette Jordan, the first Native American ever nominated for governor in the “Lower 48,” in Idaho. The state AFL-CIO was neutral in her race but endorsed other Democrats.

When the Dems take over in January, Nancy Pelosi automatically becomes Speaker of the House, making her the most powerful woman in U.S. politics and next in line of succession to the presidency if both the President and the Vice President can’t serve.

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