Dems Historic Wins Set the Table for a Prosperity Agenda-A Better Deal in 2024
As of this writing, Democrats have won control of the U.S. Senate even before Sen. Raphael Warnock’s Dec. 6 run-off in Georgia and the fate of Democratic control of the House of Representatives hangs by one or two seats out of that body’s 435 seats. For the second time since 2016, the corporate news media’s sense of where the American electorate was headed turned out to be completely wrong.
If Democrats beat the long odds and hold on to the House, it won’t be any thanks to New Jersey’s performance in the midterms where overall turnout was under 40 percent and Rep. Tom Malinowski, a Democrat lost his bid for re-election in the 7th District to former State Senator Tom Kean Jr.
In both ‘reliably blue’ New Jersey and New York, establishment Democrats started to believe the right wing propaganda and ill-informed TV punditry about an impending red wave and found themselves on the defensive. Ironically, New York Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, lost his suburban New York City seat under a barrage of TV ads that deceitfully attacked the centrist Democrat as being soft on crime.
BAND ON THE RUN
“You look at this election, and the issues that folks are most focused on are the economy and crime. And on both fronts, the Democrats own it,” Assemblyman Mike Lawler, his Republican opponent told CNN. “For the first time in our nation’s history, (Democrats) own everything in Washington, Albany, and New York City all at once.”
Here in New Jersey and New York our regional political atmospherics are made toxic by the calliope of Rupert Murdoch’s NY Post tabloid and WABC’s right wing radio which proclaims that New York City is immersed in a crime wave of unprecedented proportions. Yet, they always fail to note that the city’s murder rate, which was as high as 2,250 in the early 1990s, is just a fraction of that today. If it doesn’t fit the Trump narrative just omit it.
We were to believe that down the homestretch of the national midterm campaign, the outrage over the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade and a half century of settled law protecting a woman’s fundamental right to make her own reproductive health choices had been eclipsed by a concern over crime and the price of gasoline.
You have to wonder just how many women were in those high level corporate news network meetings.
What this reveals, as it did in 2016 when the same outlets failed to see the rise of Donald Trump, is that the beltway consensus is completely disconnected from the actual circumstance of the American people. In state after state, whether they were red or blue, thanks to an increasingly youthful and diverse electorate, we see an emerging consensus that supports a woman’s right to chose and other more progressive causes like Medicaid expansion and a living wage.
You can be sure the “revolution” will not be televised.
THE EARTH MOVED
Shailly Gupta Barnes is the Policy Director at the Kairos Center and the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival that’s co-chaired by Rev. Dr. William Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis and carries on the work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.
“Reproductive rights measures passed in more liberal states but also in Kentucky and Kansas—Medicaid expansion passed in South Dakota, that’s a pretty red state—Arizona voted to cap medical debt,” Gupta Barnes said. “Obviously the political divide is still there by party leaning yet we are seeing that issues that mainly disproportionately effect poor and low income people—those are gaining support whether it be reproductive rights, whether it be healthcare initiatives, whether it be increasing the minimum wage even proposals for rent control—these all had support in different parts of the country and that was pretty unexpected.”
This election was about a lot more than the complete electoral repudiation of Donald Trump.
Throughout the campaign, the corporate news media failed to grasp the compound impact on the electorate of an ongoing mass death event, a violent right wing insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and unbridled corporate greed. They insisted on relying on the obsolete metronome of history they have come to rely on entirely to predict the future. Perhaps they fell under the hypnotic repetition of the billions of dollars in right wing anti-Democratic Party TV attack ads that linked President Biden to an alleged crime wave that was creating mass chaos in the streets like we actually saw on Jan. 6 in Washington D.C.
The reality is the 2022 results are not really about Joe Biden but about the American people. It’s clear they are ready to embrace a 21st century version of the New Deal, we can call the Better Deal that will uplift the tens of millions of America’s low wage and low income households that are the backbone of America’s essential workforce. We see this not just reflected in the success of incumbent Congressional Democrats, including some of the most progressive, but in the dramatic increase in the number of successful union organizing drives across the county in places like Amazon and Starbucks.
PEOPLE LEADING THEIR LEADERS
Last year, 47 million Americans left their job, that’s four times the number of Americans in the entirety of the AFL-CIO which over the last twenty years has been on the decline and forced to make concession after concession to corporate America which increasingly diminished its influence in Washington.
Unfortunately, here in New Jersey, the state’s AFL-CIO chose to put incumbency over the fundamental labor right of women being able to make their own reproductive choices by endorsing Republican incumbents Congressman Jeff Van Drew and Congressman Chris Smith. It will be ironic if the NJ AFL-CIO’s cynical impulse to follow politics as usual resulted in handing the House gavel to the GOP.
When it comes to engaging more voters and building their base, New Jersey Democrats seem to be on auto pilot set on a downward trajectory. Perhaps corporate Democrats don’t want to wake the “sleeping giant” that Rev. Dr. William Barber frequently references that symbolizes the tens of millions of voters, including the hundreds of thousands who are registered to vote in places like Atlantic City that don’t vote in New Jersey.
Nationally, this year over 46 percent of voters turned out for the midterms. In battleground states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, where the Governorship were also at stake, turnout was more than 15 percent higher than New Jersey’s. By contrast, in 2018, the last mid-terms, New Jersey’s turnout topped 55 percent.
In 2020, New Jersey’s turnout topped 70 percent, well above the national average, and one of the highest in the nation. It’s been downhill since and it wasn’t apparently a priority in this most recent election.
In 2021, with Governor Phil Murphy at the top of the ticket facing an energetic challenge from Republican former Assemblyman Jack Ciatarelli, just 40 percent of voters bothered to vote, a century low. Just a year earlier President Biden bested Trump by 16 points in New Jersey, Murphy eked out just a few point margin of victory from a disengaged electorate that also rejected veteran Democratic Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney.
This year, in the state’s 2nd CD where Republican Rep. Jeff Van Drew faced former prosecutor Tim Alexander turnout in some wards in Atlantic City, a traditional Democratic stronghold, did not break 10 percent. Van Drew was initially elected as a Democrat in the district that was one of close to twenty House districts that went twice for President Obama in 2008 and 2012 but then flipped for Donald Trump in 2016.
In addition to Atlantic City, New Jersey’s 2nd CD includes all of Atlantic, Cumberland, Salem, Cape May counties as well as portions of Gloucester County. In Cumberland County, according to the United Way’s ALICE Report, over half of the population either lives below the poverty line or struggles month to month to make ends meet. In Atlantic it’s 46 percent. In Salem it is 44 percent.
In 2019, Van Drew flipped his party allegiance to the Republican Party complaining to CNN News that he had been told by an unnamed Democratic County chair that he had to vote to impeach President Trump or risked losing that chair’s endorsement. Unlike Rep. Chris Smith, New Jersey’s other Republican, Van Drew voted against both certifying President Biden’s election and the establishment of the Jan. 6 Select Committee to investigate the Capitol Insurrection.
Van Drew got 128,199 votes to Alexander’s 79,362. By contrast in 2018, Van Drew bested Democrat Seth Grossman 136,685 to 116,866. In 2020 with President Biden at the top of the ticket, Van Drew prevailed with 195,526 to Democrat Amy Kennedy who received a quite respectable 173,849.
MIA BOOTS ON THE GROUND
“I was the leader of the team and we came up short and that’s on me,” said Tim Alexander, a post election phone interview. “There’s no one else to blame. We didn’t raise enough money to get the message across to enough people and I think that was evident.”
Alexander said that whether or not he decides to run for Congress again, he and his wife Anna are committed to helping the Democratic Party get “50,000 new registrants district wide or better in order to flip this district and that’s a lot of work. If we start to get some fundraising in April and launch people in August and September we can hot that number by the end of the year and the state legislative races will benefit and it will make it easier for the next Congressional candidate.”
Alexander continued. “Let’s get Democrats energized, engaged and registered and listen to what people want especially young people and work to make those things a reality. There’s parts of Atlantic County and Cumberland County as well as a large swath of Salem County that don’t have broadband internet service.”
Chris Estevez is the CWA’s New Jersey Legislative and Political Director. His union opted to work on behalf of Alexander because he says his union sees the long term potential for building community in places like Cumberland County that have long been ignored and abused by the state’s power structure with serious consequences for the people that live there.
“We are working on a long game in building our communities and building our community and building our community’s involvement in election and so far, for us it’s not about immediate election it’s about building our voice,” says Estevez. “I don’t think the Democratic Party [in New Jersey] had confidence in its message towards the end and it didn’t stay the course and if it had and put some resources in to push out the vote we could have had different results.”
Estevez says short term infusions of campaign cash are not what’s required. “So, people get asked to give money to political campaigns in the months leading up to the election but what really needs to happen is people need to be asked to support community building that needs to happening all year round,” he observed.
According to the county ratings of population health complied by the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute , Cumberland County’s ranks lowest of all of the state’s 21 counties. 25 percent of the country’s resident are in poor or fair health as compared tp 16 percent in New Jersey and 17 percent nationally. The teen birth rate is three times higher than the state as a whole.
EMPOWERED PEOPLE = ENGAGED VOTERS
In Cumberland County almost one in five of young people between the ages of 16 to 19 as so called “disconnected youth” who are not working nor going to school. That is more than three times the state’s rate and more than twice the national percentage. Multiple social science and labor studies have documented the linkage between this status and depressed life time earnings. In the district that Van Drew represents, 13.4 percent of the 16 to 24 year olds, close to 10,000, fall into this at risk category holds. The crisis of disconnected youth was only exacerbated by the COVID pandemic which up ended hundreds of thousands of families and basic societal institutions like public education.
When it comes to housing, close to one on four Cumberland County households are dealing with over crowding, high housing costs, as well as a lack of kitchen or plumbing facilities.
There’s a lot to be done in 2nd CD where close to 25 percent of the children live in poverty and a similar percentage live in households above the poverty line but struggle week to week to survive.
No doubt there are thousands of single parent households who are among the five million nationally that failed to collect their portion of the $14 billion in the Expanded Child Tax Credit that was passed as part of the American Rescue Plan in 2021. It was permitted to lapse by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) who theorized the additional money would go to drugs and alcohol.
Estevez says that CWA partners with Citizen Action, the non-profit consumer and tenant advocacy group to work in neighborhoods where services that help struggling households with free tax preparation, tenant advocacy, healthcare and seminars on home ownership.
“In our projects we continue to hammer on the issues the community tells us are important to them,” Esteves says.
Of course, that kind of interaction requires a meaningful conversation that goes deeper than partisan politics as to what our world yet still might be if we pull together