Tag: Southern politics

Why Virginia matters to American labor in 2016.

The most important election in Virginia this year has no candidates on the ballot.

On February 2nd, the Republican-dominated General Assembly passed the two-session threshold needed to put the open shop before the Commonwealth’s voters in November. You might be asking yourself, “Wait. I thought that Virginia was already an open-shop state?” Your inclinations would be correct: legislation barring union membership as a condition of employment was signed into law by Gov. William Tuck (a later adherent to Massive Resistance in response to Brown v. Board of Education as a member of Congress) in 1947. As a result, Section 40.1-58 of the Code of Virginia reads:

“It is hereby declared to be the public policy of Virginia that the right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or nonmembership in any labor union or labor organization.”

So why do this? The easy answer is that Virginia Republicans are fearful that, should the open shop meet a legal challenge in state court, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring would not seek to defend it. The sponsor of the bill and defeated 2013 nominee for Attorney General, State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), stated as much in the deliberations on the bill. In addition, should the Assembly find itself in pro-labor hands in the future, they could overturn the open shop with a simple majority vote. Never mind that the extreme amounts of gerrymandering in the Assembly (particularly in the House of Delegates) makes a unified Democratic state government unlikely for decades to come.

The vote this November will be the first popular referendum on the open shop since 54 percent of Oklahoma voters approved State Question 695 on September 25, 2001. In this, an opportunity presents itself to the labor movement in this country, and it is one that labor unions must take.

Oh, Mississippi.

The Democratic Party in the South is absolutely irrelevant. Tuesday’s results in Mississippi’s Democratic gubernatorial primary is proof positive of that.

In case you have been living under a rock, here’s what happened:

Terry truck driver and first-time candidate Robert Gray, who goes by “Silent Knight” as his CB handle, carried 79 of 82 counties in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. He pulled more than 147,000 votes, or 51 percent, to presumed frontrunner Vicki Slater’s 87,000 votes, or 30 percent, in a three-way race.

Slater, a politically active attorney, raised more than $235,000 for her campaign and pumped in thousands of her own money. Gray raised and spent zero. He bought no advertising. No yard signs. He made only a couple of public appearances. His own family didn’t know he was running, and he didn’t vote for himself.

It seems shocking….until you take a look at recent Democratic Party primaries for the U.S. Senate in South Carolina and Tennessee. Perhaps Mississippians should be happy, as it has not emerged that their candidate for governor is an alleged sexual harasser or a confirmed homophobe. Yet.

An Open Letter On ‘Right To Work’ To All Union Members And Allies

To every union member and allied working person in the United States:

I hope this missive finds you well. As those of you who follow the news know, Wisconsin has become the 25th state to allow those in workplaces with unions that fall under the Wagner Act’s jurisdiction to not pay dues while still receiving the hard-fought benefits that come from a union contract. This is a terrible state of affairs, not the least of which because historical union bastion states of Indiana and Michigan preceded it in implementing similar laws. While I am confident that we will eventually reverse this development, this is not why I am writing you. I am writing you about the use of the phrase, ‘Right to Work’.

Alabama, the Socialist: A brief vision for giving Dixie its Heart back.

I have done enough complaining about the politics of Alabama. To be sure, there is much to complain about: the Legislature is an oversized clown car, the state supreme court has apparently decided that nullification is a thing, elections are a joke, and the opposition to Republican rule in this state is decimated to the point that Alabama is probably the closest thing you will find in America to a one-party state. If you are someone who cares about the dignity and worth of other human beings, it is a tough place to live and engage in politics.

I hope to make a small dent in Republican hegemony in this state by reviving the Tuscaloosa organizing committee of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). It sounds ridiculous, I know; how can I expect a state to embrace socialism when it will not even embrace the tepid centrism on offer from the Alabama Democratic Party?

The truth of the matter is that any organizing on the left in Alabama, or anywhere else in the South for that matter, is going to be a decades-long proposition. Democratic party units at the state and local level have atrophied to the point that they have taken on some of the characteristics of third parties: struggling in fundraising, being overly dependent on a big name to revive the party, and simply not competing in many districts and elections. Those structural issues tank the party long before we get to talking about ideology, an arena in which the Democratic Party in the South is nothing short of atrocious. This sets the political paradigm firmly on the right end of the political spectrum and ensures that progressive and leftist ideas are not only ignored, but openly derided. Changing the discussion and dislodging this accepted political filter is not something that can be done in an election cycle. It would be folly to even suggest it.

That is why I am going to begin the process towards changing the debate now. My vision is just that: mine. Being a socialist means that you are always strategizing around the formation of coalitions and thinking about how to include as many voices as possible in political decision making. The vision that I lay out here may not be the one that guides the DSA in Tuscaloosa. But I think that it is important to start discussing what a socialist vision for Alabama looks like and how we might put it into action.

Boldness in Alabama: The desperation of low expectations.

I witnessed something a few days ago that in over 30 years of reporting in this state I have rarely seen from politicians – boldness.

That came from Charles J. Dean last week in an opinion piece titled, “Gov. Robert Bentley and the sound of boldness“. You might be asking yourself what the Governor did to deserve such praise. Did he resolve to stay out of the campaign to unionize workers at Mercedes-Benz here in Tuscaloosa County? Did he decide that the private affairs of consenting adults was no longer his business? Did he come out and state unequivocally that, hey, maybe this Mike Hubbard guy is kinda unfit for public service? No, no, wait: he decided that the multi-billion dollar tax giveaway to private schools in the form of the Alabama Accountability Act had to come to an end?

No. None of that. Here’s the phrase from Robert Julian Bentley’s fifth State of the State address as Alabama’s 53rd governor that inspired such florid language:

“…Folks I am not going to be a governor who pushes problems aside. We’re going to solve problems as long as I am governor of this state. …I am telling you all this to say this — and to come out of a Republican governor’s mouth – after four years of saying we are not going to raise taxes, and we said that and we have not, I’m telling you the next four years we are going to raise taxes…We have to face the problems and we have to do it with boldness. You have to lead with boldness. Somebody has to take the lead and I am going to take the lead.”

Wow! He is going to have to raise taxes in order to solve a $700 million-plus long-term deficit! While that might be called “common-sense thinking” or elicit a “duh” in, say, Minnesota, it is revolutionary talk in the Heart of Dixie. So where will these taxes come from? Will the former dermatologist and state representative from Tuscaloosa suggest raising the top tax rate to make wealthier Alabamans pay more? Perhaps he planned to end tax giveaways to multinational corporations who afford to pay their taxes to do business in Alabama?

Nope.

The Alabama Democratic Party has gone silent. Good.

Nancy Worley, screwup extraordinaire.
Nancy Worley, screwup extraordinaire.

Clete Wetli, former chair of the Madison County Democrats, is upset that Nancy Worley appears to have gone silent in what has probably been one of the most news-filled months that Alabama politics has seen in a really long time. In addition to same-sex marriage becoming the law of the land due to U.S. District Court Judge Ginny Granade’s ruling (and reaffirmation of that ruling after county probate judges somehow forgot about the Supremacy Clause), the Speaker of the House looks more and more like an inmate walking. The stunning incompetence of the Republican Party in Alabama is only surpassed by the incomprehensible silence of their opposition.

Good.

Alabama Doesn’t Have a Voter Problem. It Has a Democracy Problem.

In Chief Justice Roy Moore, Alabama has the personification of any bigotry that you can imagine sitting atop its high court. Here is a guy who believed so fervently that the nation’s courts should validate only one religion and its precepts that he was thrown off the bench after refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the front of the State Capitol. After founding something called the Moral Law Foundation (doing the sort of work you would expect from it and him), he ran for the Republican nomination for Governor in 2010, expecting that the love would still be there from the right-wingers that dominate the Alabama GOP. His faith was found wanting.

Then came 2012, when Roy Moore defeated sitting Chief Justice Chuck Malone in the Republican primary to advance into the general election. Now, given the sentiment that has been expressed in opinion pieces like this one, you would be led to believe that he faced a candidate of great credit to the bench and the people of Alabama in that election.