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Capitol Hill Shop Steward

Campaign 2000
Some Thoughts
On The Election ...

As we pick through the wreckage of our presidential election, it’s time to start drawing a few conclusions. Let’s give it an early try.

First, with the world’s news media focused on our cliffhanger vote count, it’s time for people to see that our perfect democracy is not so perfect. Millions of U.S. voters — and bewildered observers abroad — just found out about our Electoral College. This colonial-era system means that a majority of votes does not necessarily determine our next President. Everyone just found out about our sorry system of state-by-state, even county-by-county, elections, with no standard system of voting or counting the results. So from here on, let’s hope that people around the world will think twice before they allow — or encourage — planeloads of U.S. human rights know-it-alls to show up to sit in judgment of their elections. Our self-appointed role as chief lecturer to the people of planet earth about how to run an election might be coming to an end after this fiasco. Forget about the world. We have our own mess to clean up.

'The Lesson of West Virginia'

Second lesson; I’ll call it the lesson of West Virginia. Bush defeated Gore in West Virginia by a 52% to 46% margin. And at the same time that Bush was winning the Presidential vote, Democrat Congressman Bob Wise was winning the governors race. Legendary Senator Robert Byrd (D) also won re-election with a massive 78% of the vote. So in a nutshell, Senator Byrd received 462,566 votes; Bob Wise was elected governor with 320,430 votes; and Al Gore in defeat received 291,088 votes.

Just do the math. All are Democrats, yet Al Gore only got 63% as many votes as were cast for Senator Byrd, and 91% as many votes as were cast for governor-elect Bob Wise. All of this is even more remarkable given that in West Virginia registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than two-to-one, 632,000 to 295,000. Had Al Gore been able to win the votes of just 72% of those who voted for Senator Byrd, he would have taken the state. It’s obvious that something went wrong. And it didn’t have anything to do with Ralph Nader.

One of the reasons that the Gore campaign came up short in West Virginia — and a lot of other places — was that he really believed his own baloney about our "booming" economy. As someone who lived and worked in West Virginia for several years, I can tell you that Gore’s campaign didn’t bother to check the facts before they decided to tell the good people of the Mountaineer state that things were "booming". Other than coal and chemicals, West Virginia’s biggest export is its young people. And this is nothing new; even during the industrial expansion of the 50’s and 60’s it was almost a truism to refer to Akron, Ohio, or Detroit, Michigan, as the biggest cities in West Virginia.

Despite the "boom" that we read about in the papers, or heard about in Al Gore’s speeches, working people in West Virginia suffer from unemployment rates that in the past year have fluctuated from 2% to 3% higher than the national average. It’s also a state with a per-capita personal income of just less than $20,000 per year, and median income of just barely above $25,000. Average annual income is just above $24,000. More than 270,000 residents have no health insurance. And the next time you take a trip through this beautiful state see how many "Help Wanted" signs you see — and ask the clerks you buy gas from how much they make. It won’t be much more than minimum wage, unfortunately.

What Boom?

For working people in West Virginia, life is hard. If you are lucky enough to have a good job in a unionized coal mine, factory, or chemical plant, you are probably doing pretty good. Some of the unorganized workers in these industries are also doing OK, since companies have used better wages and benefits to keep unions out. But if — or these days more likely when — you get laid off, or your plant or mine closes, you have a tough choice staring you in the face. If you are old enough, you retire. If you are young enough, you get a lower paying job and make the best of it. If you are too young to retire but too old to get hired anyplace else, you do the best you can. And you can always move away. You might end up closer to your kids that way.

So when Al Gore came blazing through West Virginia during the election campaign it’s no surprise to me that he had a hard time peddling his "boom". And you should know that I’m not the only one wondering why Al Gore went to West Virginia — and every place else — bragging up his "booming" economy. Three days after the election I dropped-in on a press conference at the National Press Club here in Washington, D.C. Held by the Campaign for America’s Future, and hosted by Co-Director Bob Borosage, pollsters Stanley Greenberg (Greenberg Quinlan Research) and Celinda Lake (Lake Snell Perry and Associates) told it better than I ever could. Greenberg (pollster for both Clinton and Gore) reported that in his post-election poll of over 2,036 voters that, of those voters who voted for Al Gore, the state of the economy was seventh on their list of reasons for supporting him.

But Celinda Lake (pollster for the AFL-CIO, Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, among others) held the blockbuster; in one of her polls a full 66% of the respondents reported that economic prosperity had not yet extended to their families. Pollster Lake reported to the assembled news media point blank that in the campaign "Gore needed to talk about money ... . Women and downscale men were concerned about the need for higher wages ...". Imagine that!

'Bosses for Gore'

And in case you missed it, the Gore campaign chose suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as the place to announce their grand-finale of the "booming" economy pitch. On October 27th, in front of an audience of corporate executives, Gore proudly announced that "More than 2,750 business leaders from across the nation today personally endorsed Al Gore and Joe Lieberman, praising their plans to help extend prosperity for all." I wonder how many votes this scheme pulled in? This is the third lesson; "Bosses for Gore" didn’t work.

So what’s ahead? With Republicans in control of Congress, let’s get ready for some early battles when Congress returns to Washington, D.C. in January. It’s pretty safe to predict that very quickly we will be faced with attempts to slash the already minimal taxes of rich folks and big business. Soon after that will come the struggle to defend Social Security from the privatizers, to prevent overtime pay from being repealed, and to stop Congress from expanding NAFTA to all of Latin America using the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas" (FTAA). Get ready to get busy.

Happy Holidays to all!

Chris Townsend is political action director of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE). Due to the elections and a trip out-of-the-country, Chris was unable to provide his regular "Capitol Hill Shop Steward" column to the Labor Party Press.

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