November 8, 2012

A new direction in Oregon?

The Democrats now have a majority in the House and kept their edge in the Senate.

The Associated Press has said, "Expect a distinctly different flavor from the Oregon Legislature next year. Democrats were on track to muffle the loud voice that an evenly divided House of Representatives gave Republicans for the past two years."

Senate President Peter Courtney has also been quoted as saying,“We can celebrate for five minutes, but then we have to get to work. We need each other — Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate — and we don’t get to use excuses for not living up to standards.”

And the quotes go on...

The elections marked a great defeat for the ultra-right, and we can see that the Republicans are in disarray, but it would be a mistake to say that this defeat is decisive as of yet and it does not help when leading Democrats talk about bipartisanship so soon after the elections. It shows that they aren't listening to the people or learning from us. It also shows that they aren't thinking clearly about how tight some of the key races were or about the large numbers of working class people who sat out the elections because they have no hope and are buried in depression and fatalism.

We also have to remember that a number of elected Democrats are barely Democrats in fact, or are Democrats in name only. Hopes are high in the labor movement---and particularly in public sector unions---that the new Democratic majority will tax the rich, fund public services and carry out labor's broad programs for incremental change. Next year may well see public employee strikes in Oregon and it will help the public employee unions in the short-run if these strikes can come to a successful conclusion. It seems likely to me that much of this hope is misplaced or unwarranted and it seems just as likely that labor's best political hopes are likely to be dashed in 2013.

We can already hear a dangerous tone being set when some leading Democrats talk about funding education in 2013 and don't mention all of the other public services also in need of funding. The Democrats hold power in Oregon to some extent by creatively fostering competition between lobbying and interest groups, unions included, and promising a bit to each group. The lobbying and interest groups and the unions walk knowingly to the dance at every legislative session and each session sees the process further cheapened.

So we have a contradiction, or a set of contradictions. There is every reason to believe in and work for change based on the just-concluded elections. The far-right has suffered a setback, labor has a broad program or programs that can appeal to most people here, the state's economy is not in terrible shape and there is a capacity here for mass public and working-class mobilization in some key areas. This is set very much against the bipartisanship of people like Peter Courtney, the splitting tactics of many elected Democrats, the possibility of a right-wing revival in time for the next elections and the large---and growing---numbers of politically disaffected people.

What can resolve these contradictions in favor of working people? We need mass and united action around labor's best programs for change, steady and building support for the fight against foreclosures, a revived peace movement, solid and public support for LGBT rights and stepped up anti-racist and pro-immigrant mobilizations.

If the Democrats can't or won't lead in the right direction, labor and the people will have to take the leading role and the DEmocrats will have to follow.

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