by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
The one important thing that happened in the 2014 election was that minimum wage initiatives passed overwhelmingly in four states.
Here in Washington state, Republicans remain in control of the state Senate, with the aid of one Democratic turncoat, and Democrats remain in control of the state House.
Washington voters passed a modest gun control measure, I-594, and Seattle passed Ed Murray's early education package, Prop 1B. All incumbent LGBT legislators were reelected, and they were joined by Joan McBride, who won a state House seat on the Eastside.
They may also be joined by Christine Kilduff, who, as SGN goes to press, leads in her state House race by a mere 44 votes.
Nationally, there was media-driven drama because Republicans won control of the U.S. Senate, but their electoral success does nothing to change the basic dynamics of Congressional gridlock.
All six incumbent LGBT Congress members won reelection, but three Gay challengers lost their races - American Idol finalist Clay Aiken, Massachusetts Republican Richard Tisei, and Sean Eldridge, husband of Facebook exec Chris Hughes. In a San Diego Congressional district, Gay Republican Carl DeMaio leads a Democratic incumbent by less than 1,000 votes.
Voters in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota passed statewide minimum wage increases by overwhelming margins. In Alaska, in fact, the minimum wage hike won by 38 points.
In two of those four states - Arkansas and South Dakota - Democratic Senate incumbents went down to defeat, and it appears that Alaska Democrat Mark Begich will also lose his seat.
And yet, none of the Democrats really campaigned on the minimum wage issue, in spite of the measures on their states' ballots and the fact that President Obama issued an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their employees at least $10.10 per hour. It seemed that Democrats preferred to lose talking about nothing, than to take a chance on winning by stumping for economic reforms.
San Francisco voters also passed an initiative raising their city's minimum wage to $15 per hour. The measure passed with a whopping 77% Yes vote. Massachusetts voters passed a statewide paid sick leave initiative, as did Oakland, California, and Trenton, New Jersey.
'People are disillusioned by endless political bickering and eyed these elections with great dispirit,' AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka said in a post-election statement.
'In way too many elections, they got a false choice. In these very difficult times, they did not get a genuine economic alternative to their unhappiness and very real fear of the future. But when voters did have a chance to choose their future directly - through ballot measures - their decisions are unmistakable.'
Not much new in Olympia
The Washington state Senate will have a 26-23 Republican majority, despite record spending by Democrats and their progressive allies.
Nominal Democrat Rodney Tom, who turned control of the Senate over to Republicans in a deal that made him majority leader, dropped out of the race when he was challenged by former Kirkland Mayor Joan McBride. McBride then shifted to run for and win a House seat, and House member Cyrus Habib won Tom's senate seat.
In other districts, results were not so good for Democrats. Senator Tim Sheldon, who joined Tom in defecting to the Republicans, beat a Democratic challenger. Mark Miloscia - once a conservative Democrat, but now reincarnated as a Republican - beat Democrat Shari Song for the Senate vacated by retiring Senator Tracey Eide.
In this year's most expensive legislative campaign, incumbent Senator Andy Hill is leading Democratic challenger Matt Isenhower by six points. Hill, a former Microsoft manager, raised almost $1 million to Isenhower's $500,000. More than $1.4 million was spent by outside groups on the race.
One new face in the state Senate will be human rights activist Pramila Jayapal, who won her race to succeed retiring Senator Adam Kline.
On the House side, Democrats will retain a slightly reduced majority. House Speaker Frank Chopp crushed his Trotskyist challenger Jess Spear in his Capitol Hill district by a convincing 84-16% margin.
Although Republicans are celebrating their victories, which gave them control of the U.S. Senate for the first time since 2007, the basic dynamics of power have not changed.
Republicans will probably end up with 53 Senate seats, against 45 for the Democrats. Independents Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont also caucus with the Democrats, giving them an effective 47-vote total.
While Republicans will be able to elect Mitch McConnell majority leader, and appoint committee chairs, they are still short of the 60 votes needed to bring legislation to the floor of the Senate for debate and a vote.
That means the same dynamic will be at play as when Democrats controlled the Senate. Neither side will be able to satisfy the demands of its base, because their colleagues on the other side of the aisle will not allow their pet projects to come up for a vote.
In 2016, 23 Republican seats will be at stake as opposed to only 10 Democratic seats, and 2016 will also be a presidential election year, meaning Democratic turnout will likely be much higher than it was this year.
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