The power of the people outmuscled the almighty dollar on Election Day in Oregon — and elsewhere across the nation.
Union leaders were elated by the election results showing labor-backed President Barack Obama’s defeat of Republican nominee Mitt Romney, and other wins ranging from keeping the U.S. Senate in Democratic hands, down to ballot measure victories in California, Idaho, Maryland, Minnesota and Illinois. (See here for a nationwide ballot measure roundup.)
“Despite the tidal wave of corporate cash, this election proved there is no match for the strength of grassroots people power,” said national AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a post-election conference call for reporters. “And this year, labor was able to reach beyond union members” to other workers, Trumka said.
An AFL-CIO poll of 812 union members and 827 Working America members showed two-thirds voted for Obama. Pollster Guy Molyneux said 21 percent of all voters were union members. In the key swing state of Ohio, whose electoral votes clinched Obama’s victory, unionists made up 30 percent of all voters.
Workers in general — both union and nonunion — backed Obama over Romney by a 2-to-1 ratio, the poll said.
Obama captured 50.5 percent of the popular vote and 332 electoral votes (well above the required 270 to win). Romney collected 48 percent of the popular vote and 206 electoral votes. Obama is the first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to be elected twice with over 50 percent of the vote.
Obama carried Oregon 54 percent to 42.5 percent, and Washington 55.9 percent to 41.7 percent. Voter turnout in Oregon reached 81 percent. In Washington, 73.7 percent of registered voters cast ballots.
“This election was about a choice between two very different visions for our nation,” Trumka told a Nov. 7 post-election press conference. “One vision rewards hard work and the people who do it, while the other benefits only those at the top. Voters rejected Romney economics.
“They made clear they want solutions that respect hard work, strengthen the middle class, invest in America and build upon working together instead of driving people apart.”
In several U.S. Senate races where Republican, corporate, and Super PAC cash looked like it would make the difference, union members’ get-out-the-vote activism and votes helped push union-endorsed candidates to victory. The election left the new Senate with 53 Democrats, a gain of two; plus two independents who are expected to caucus with the Democrats.
“We said we’d defend all of our seats and would put half of their seats in play,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “No one believed me, but we did just that.”
Major victories included Elizabeth Warren’s defeat of Sen. Scott Brown, who had won a partial term in Massachusetts after the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy. Tim Kaine beat George Allen in Virginia; Rep. Tammy Baldwin overcame Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin; Sen. Jon Tester defeated challenger Rep. Denny Rehberg in Montana; Sen. Sherrod Brown won over Josh Mandel in Ohio; and Maria Cantwell won easily in Washington.
Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, whose term expires in two years, pointed out that seven of the Democratic senators-elect are filibuster reformers. “I have great hope that we took a great step toward reforming the filibuster,” Merkley said. “Thanks to your huge effort, we have a stronger team fighting for a more fair, inclusive, tolerant, forward-looking society, where everyone has a shot to go as far as their talents and hard work take them.”
And though Democrats strengthened their hold on the Senate, they failed to recapture the majority in the House of Representatives, which they lost two years ago. Seven races were still undecided at press time, with Democrats leading in six. If those hold, Democrats will pick up 11 seats, putting the House total for next term at 201 Democrats and 234 Republicans.
Oregon returned all its incumbent Democrats by wide margins. They are Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer, Kurt Schrader, and Peter DeFazio. Republican Greg Walden, who was endorsed by the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council, also was re-elected.
Washington State Labor Council (WSLC) President Jeff Johnson said his state’s Congressional delegation got stronger with the addition of three new “labor champions”: Suzan DelBene, Derek Kilmer, and Denny Heck. “Labor’s good friends Jim McDermott, Rick Larsen, and Adam Smith also won handily,” he said.
In Oregon, all AFL-CIO-endorsed candidates in statewide races won by wide margins, including incumbent labor commissioner Brad Avakian, treasurer Ted Wheeler, secretary of state Kate Brown, and attorney general Ellen Rosenblum. Jim Egan was elected to the Court of Appeals and Richard Baldwin defeated Nena Cook for Oregon Supreme Court.
On statewide ballot measures, labor-backed Measure 85, a reform of Oregon’s corporate kicker tax, passed by a wide margin. Labor also helped reject Measure 84, an attempt by Republicans to phase out inheritance taxes on large estates, and all taxes on intra-family property transfers. Less than 3 percent of estates are affected by the estate tax, which applies only to estates worth more than $1 million.
Democrats held onto their 16-14 majority in the Oregon Senate, with all of the AFL-CIO’s endorsed candidates — several of them union members — victorious. Winners were Arnie Roblan in Dist. 5; Mark Hass in Dist. 14; Elizabeth Stemer Hayward in Dist.17, Diane Rosenbaum in Dist. 21; Chip Shields in Dist. 22; Jackie Dingfelder in Dist. 23; and Laurie Monnes Anderson in Dist. 25. Rosenbaum has been a longtime active member of Communications Workers of America Local 7901; Roblan is a former teacher and member of the Oregon Education Association (OEA); Hass was a long-time member of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists; Monnes Anderson is a retired member of the Oregon Nurses Association; and Shields is a member of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
In the Oregon House, AFL-CIO-backed candidates won 87 percent of the races in unofficial results. If all the numbers hold, Democrats will carry a 34-26 majority into the 2013 legislative session. (In the last session the House was split 30-30.)
Winners were Peter Buckley in Dist. 5; union Carpenter Paul Holvey in Dist. 8; Caddy McKeown in Dist. 9; David Gomberg in Dist. 10; Phil Barnhart in Dist. 11; John Lively in Dist. 12; former Service Employees International Union member Nancy Nathanson in Dist. 13; Val Hoyle in Dist. 14; Sara Gelser in Dist. 16; Brian Clem in Dist. 21; former OEA member Betty Komp in Dist. 22; Tobias Read in Dist. 27; former Portland Police Association (PPA) president Jeff Barker in Dist. 28; Ben Unger in Dist. 29; Joe Gallegos in Dist. 30; United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 555 rep Brad Witt in Dist. 31; Chris Harker in Dist. 34 ; former OEA member Margaret Doherty in Dist. 35; Jennifer Wil-liamson in Dist. 36; Chris Garrett in Dist. 38; Brent Barton in Dist. 40; Carolyn Tomei, a one-time member of AFT, in Dist. 41; Jules Bailey in Dist. 42; Lew Frederick in Dist. 43; Tina Kotek in Dist. 44; former AFT Local 2277 president Michael Dembrow in Dist. 45; Alissa Keny-Guyer in Dist. 46; Jessica Vega Pederson in Dist. 47; retired OEA member Jeff Reardon in Dist. 48; Chris Gorsek, a member of the OEA and a past member of the PPA and UFCW Local 555, in Dist. 49; Fire Fighters union member Greg Matthews in Dist. 50; Shemia Fagan in Dist. 51; and Bob Jenson in Dist. 58.
The Oregon AFL-CIO’s election program turned out union members to knock on over 115,000 doors, make over 315,000 phone calls, and hand out thousands of fliers to co-workers at jobsites. Additionally, thousands of water cooler conversations helped spread information about candidates’ records on the economy, and over 359,000 pieces of mail informed union members about their unions’ endorsements.
“We had some tough decisions to make when it came to prioritizing our resources,” said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain. “But watching the results come in, I’m convinced that we did the right thing, and I am looking forward to working with the many new pro-worker candidates who were elected across our state.”
In local elections, Charlie Hales defeated Jefferson Smith for mayor of Portland, and Amanda Fritz turned back a challenge from former state rep Mary Nolan for re-election to the City Council. Unions were split, with every candidate running with some labor support.
In Multnomah County, voters strongly supported Measure 26-143 to form a new library district. Library employees are members of AFSCME Local 88.
The Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council scored a win with passage of Measure 26-144, a $482 million bond measure for the Portland School District. The trades hope to secure lots of work rebuilding schools in the district in the near future.
In Columbia County, Earl Fisher and Tony Hyde were re-elected to the Board of Commissioners. Both were endorsed by the Northwest Oregon Labor Council (NOLC), and Fisher had backing from the Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council.
At the City of Wilsonville, Tim Knapp was re-elected mayor and Susie Stevens was elected to the City Council. Both ran with support from NOLC.
Labor-backed candidates didn’t fare as well in Clackamas County and Gresham. NOLC-supported candidates Richard Strathern and Paul Warr-King lost bids to the Gresham City Council, while Clackamas County Commission incumbents Chair Charlotte Lehan and Commissioner Jamie Damon lost re-election despite strong labor support.
Lehan and Damon had not yet conceded as of press time, however, citing an ongoing investigation by the state Department of Justice into ballot tampering by an elections worker. A part-time temp employee, a registered Republican, was accused of filling in ballots for Republican candidates on sections of ballots that voters left blank.
In an email to supporters, Lehan said the temp worker marked ballots for her opponent. “If these allegations turn out to be true, it will be an unprecedented breach of trust and could call into question the integrity and validity of this election.
“Because of this I have been advised by legal counsel to hold off making any decision in this race until the Department of Justice investigation is complete. At that time we will assess the outcome of the investigation.”
Union members elected
A couple of union members celebrated first-time political victories on Election Day.
Brian Adams, a member of the Fire Fighters Union who attended the Oregon Labor Candidate School, was elected to the Sandy City Council, Position 3. Adams won with 54 percent of the vote against two other candidates.
Jake Carter, a member of IBEW Local 125, was elected to the board of directors of the Columbia River Public Utilities District. He defeated Darrel Purkerson by a margin of 64 to 35 percent.
In the State of Washington, labor-endorsed Democrat Jay Inslee won the governor’s race. Democrat Kathleen Drew lost her race for secretary of state by just 0.6 percent.
WSLC-endorsed candidates Brad Owens for lieutenant governor, Bob Ferguson for attorney general, Mike Kreidler for insurance commissioner, Peter Goldmark for public lands commissioner, and Sheryl Gordon McCloud for Supreme Court all won.
In a pair of too-close-to-call Southwest Washington legislative races, labor-backed Democrat Tim Probst was ahead of incumbent state Sen. Don Benton (R) by 16 votes as of Nov. 13 in the 17th District. School teacher and Washington Education Association member Monica Stonier led her Republican opponent by 81 votes for an open House seat in the 17th. Washington counts ballots that were postmarked as late as election day, and results won’t be officially certified until Nov. 26. Jim Gizzi lost his race for Position 2 in the House.
In the 49th District, labor-endorsed Democrats Annette Cleveland (Senate), Sharon Wylie, and Jim Moeller all won handily, while candidate David Shehorn lost his House race in the 18th District.
The current breakdown in the Washington Senate is 27 Democrats and 22 Republicans. In the House it’s 56 Democrats and 42 Republicans.
In Clark County, labor-endorsed Democrat Joe Tanner lost his bid to unseat incumbent Republican County Commissioner Tom Mielke, 51 percent to 49 percent. Labor-opposed Republican David Madore unseated Republican incumbent Marc Boldt, 53 percent to 45.5 percent.