Midterms that matter

    Logo by Nina Lincoff / North by Northwestern

    This quarter, North by Northwestern is hosting weekly columns from Politics & Policy, a new undergraduate publication with a focus on — you guessed it — politics and policy at local, state, national and international levels.

    Tea Party successes mixed bag

    Some of the most-discussed questions heading into the 2010 midterm elections centered on the possible effect of the Tea Party on the Republican Party’s chances to take the House and Senate. The returns suggest that the Tea Party’s effects were mixed. Although Tea Party fervor probably led to increased Republican turnout and thus helped expand already-large Republican margins in the House, several Tea Party Senate candidates lost in what would likely have otherwise been easy Republican victories. Although Tea Party-affiliated Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (Kent.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), and Ron Johnson (Wisc.) won their respective races, the Tea Party-affiliated candidates also lost several races: Christine O’Donnell (Del.), Sharon Angle (Nev.), Ken Buck (Utah), and likely Joe Miller in Alaska’s wild three-way Senate race.

    These losses could do more than simply affect the partisan makeup of the U.S. Senate. They could also result in lower Tea Party influence in the establishment GOP. Not only will there be fewer Tea Party-affiliated Senators to hold the traditional Republican politicians to Tea Party priorities, but the losses could cause mainstream Republicans to doubt the electoral viability of the Tea Party in the long-term. If Tea Party-backed candidates couldn’t win in what was clearly a wave year for Republicans, it is doubtful whether they will be able to in the future.

    High on democracy

    Several California’s fourteen ballot propositions are making national headlines. Despite enthusiasm from young voters, Proposition 19—which would legalize the possession of marijuana for citizens 21 and older and allow the state to tax its sale—failed with nearly 54 percent disapproval. Advocates of the proposition have already announced their intent to pursue passage again in 2012.

    There is hope for California’s yearly stalemate in the legislature over approving a state budget, however. Close to 55 percent of voters favored Proposition 25, which will alter the required number of votes to pass a budget from two-thirds to a simple majority. The state’s budget for this year was approved 100 days late.

    The state also approved Proposition 20, a move which will allow a statewide, bipartisan redistricting commission to establish congressional districts, as opposed to elected officials. Supporters say the proposition will encourage more fair apportionment of citizen votes.

    Missiles and Missouri

    Ike Skelton, representative from Missouri’s 4th district and thirty-four-year veteran of Congress lost his seat. Skelton was also the head of the House Armed Services Committee which is responsible for oversight and funding of the Department of Defense. The departure of Skelton, along with twelve other Democrats, means control of the committee will fall to Buck McKeon from California.

    McKeon has already made clear his intentions to revisit the issue of missile defense which was a key tenet of the his campign platform. It’s also likely that the Republican’s arrival will see the committee place more emphasis on funding for the Navy and Air Force – both of which are engaged in fights over big ticketdefenseitems. The shift in composition and leadership of the committee could also mean major push back against any attempts to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay or further trim the defense budget.

    You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin

    Mark Kirk eked out a win against Alexi Giannoulias for the Illinois senate seat on Tuesday. This race doesn’t just say something about the current national mood, it may also be a commentary on the political capital Obama holds as President. Obama stumped hard for Giannoulias, whose campaign commercials featured praise from both Barack and Michelle Obama.

    He also received an endorsement and several visits from the President, including a visit to Chicago just days before election. This wasn’t enough to save the seat for Democrats however, a seat that Obama held only two years earlier. Kirk won the contest, which could mean Obama has lost support, even in his home territory. This could indicate even more trouble facing Democrats in 2012.

    Judge not lest ye be judged

    Voters in Iowa decided to remove three state Supreme Court justices who were part of the unanimous 2009 decision to legalize same-sex marriage in the state. Efforts by conservative organizations such as the American Family Association and the Family Research Council were successful despite Iowa’s merit selection system; the system, specifically designed to be as apolitical as possible, requires that judges stand for periodic retention votes.

    Some view the result as a strong message to “activist judges” who deliver unpopular rulings. Critics, however, fear that judges may be less willing to protect the rights of minorities knowing that their jobs are at risk.

    Following the successful results in Iowa, other special interest groups may join in on similar efforts to challenge incumbent judges over a variety of issues such as civil rights, gay rights and abortion rights. Armed with increased spending capabilities, these special interests may further politicize judicial elections and undermine the independence of the judicial branch as a separate branch of government.

    Ain’t nothin’ but a thing

    Control of the U.S. House of Representatives is set to change in January, with Republicans picking up at least a net 61 seats. This development is being alternately described as a sea change in American politics or signifying nothing. In a way, both of these characterizations are correct.

    In terms of policy consequences, one likely result of the change is an increase in Congressional investigations regarding government waste. Although Kurt Bardella, spokesman for the new Republican chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Darrell Issa, has said that “We’re not going to be embarking on issuing subpoenas left and right,” the Republicans’ newfound ability to issue subpoenas to Executive branch officials represents an important shift in power.

    But at the same time, the actual legislative impact of the Republican House may be overstated. Democrats still control the Senate and, more importantly, the White House. Any Republican legislation that emerges from the House will have to be reconciled with the assuredly more centrist legislation the Senate would pass. And even then, President Obama has the capacity to issue a veto, which Republicans will find nearly impossible to override in the Senate. In the final tally, this election spells changes for American policy, but the structure of American government ensures that this change will likely be minimal.

    Swing, swing, swing state

    Of the many Democratic casualties that transpired last Tuesday, one turnover will have more far-reaching implications than is immediately apparent. Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, possibly one of the few Democrats endorsed by the NRA, lost by a slim margin against former Lehman Brothers executive John Kasich of Columbus. Coming into office with a newly-elected Republican Attorney General, Secretary of State, US Senator, and an Ohio Assembly, Kasich will be among friends this January.

    As one of the first officials to endorse Barack Obama back in 2008, Strickland, like previous governors before him, played a major role in turning Ohio towards his party. Furthermore, Kasich will leave his mark long after he leaves office, as all the parties involved in redistricting a shrinking Ohio for the next decade are Republican, and gerrymandering is expected.


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