2012 - %3, November

2013 Might Finally Be the Year of Filibuster Reform

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 12:38 PM EST

"The Senate's recent overuse of the filibuster," says newly elected independent senator Angus King, "has stalled progress on practically every issue of importance in America. The 60-vote requirement that it creates is not in the Constitution." Reforming the filibuster was one of his signature campaign issues, and Harry Reid said this summer that he agreed. He's committed himself to filibuster reform when the new Senate term opens in January.

So will it happen? The safe answer is no, but this might actually be the perfect time for it. You see, there are usually two big obstacles to filibuster reform: the opposition party and the governing party. The opposition party doesn't want reform because it's afraid of what the governing party can do without it. And the governing party doesn't want reform because it's afraid of what the opposition party will do if they win control in the next election.

But guess what? We're in a bit of an unusual situation right now. The Democratic Party has a president in the White House, which means that Republicans won't be able to run roughshod over them for at least four years—and the odds are at least decent that it might be longer. Likewise, the Republican Party has a big majority in the House, which means that Democrats can't run roughshod over them. And this majority looks to be durable for at least four years too.

So filibuster reform would have a very small effect right now, mainly making it easier for the majority to confirm presidential nominations. Obviously Republicans wouldn't be too happy about that, but they can't keep obstructing judicial nominations at their previous pace for four more years anyway, so it's not the biggest deal in the world. If Democrats were willing to agree to serious but moderate reforms, there's a chance they could actually get Republicans to go along with it.

Not a big chance, but a chance. We live in interesting times.

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The Beginning of the End for the Anti-Marriage Equality Movement

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 12:34 PM EST

Until Tuesday night, the anti-gay rights movement had been undefeated at the ballot box, winning every single time same-sex marriage rights had been put to a popular vote. Thirty-two states had voted to restrict same-sex marriage, including deep blue California.

Then last night, for the first time ever, as my colleague Kate Sheppard noted last night, Americans voted to legalize same-sex marriage through statewide referendums in three states: Maine, Washington and Maryland, while defeating a proposed amendment to the Minnesota state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. After losing at the ballot box thirty-two times, last night supporters of marriage equality swept all four contests where those rights were put to a vote. 

Anti-gay rights activists have worked for years to build up firewalls in the states against same-sex marriage, hoping to hold off the tide of historical inevitability. In several of theses contests, polls that showed support for marriage equality ahead would turn out to be painfully wrong when the votes were counted. Opponents of same-sex marriage read this as proof that in the privacy of the voting booth, their moral vision would prevail. The National Organization for Marriage saw their path to victory in peeling off socially conservative and religious minority voters who usually vote for Democrats and enlisting them in the fight against same-sex marriage rights. Internal documents showed that NOM believed that by putting forth black and Latino spokespeople, they could discredit the idea of same-sex marriage as a civil rights cause and drive a wedge between two typically Democratic constitutencies. In several states, legislatures passed laws legalizing same-sex marriage, but NOM's frequent wins at the ballot box whenever same-sex marriage rights were put to a popular vote, they argued, proved that the arc of history did not necessarily bend towards marriage equality.

That changed Tuesday night, as voters went to the polls in three states and voted to grant same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual ones. The results are harbingers of the future in several crucial ways: LGBT activists' win in Maryland, which has a large population of black voters, suggests that NOM's racist wedge strategy is crumbling. With the Supreme Court potentially taking cases challenging the constitutionality of bans on same-sex marriage in the near future, the Justices may see wins in Maryland, Washington (if the lead holds) and Maine as a sign that if they ruled in favor of same-sex marriage rights, they would not be seen as foisting a drastic cultural change on a country that is not prepared to recieve it. Instead, the Justices assumed to be on the fence, like Anthony Kennedy, could be more easily persuaded that this is a cause whose time has come. 

Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides however, this is the beginning of the end for the anti-marriage equality movement. They long ago began to lose in the courts and state legislatures. Now they have begun losing at the polls. This battle may go on for years, but there is no longer any doubt about the outcome. 

California's Prop 30 Passes, But Probably Wasn't Necessary Anyway

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 12:22 PM EST

On Monday I wrote that if California's Proposition 30 passed, it would mark a symbolic end to the tax revolt started by Proposition 13 three decades ago. Well, it passed. But it turns out that it might not even have been necessary. Thanks to redistricting and the long, slow slide of the Republican Party in California, it looks as though Democrats might very well win two-thirds majorities in both houses of the legislature once all the votes from Tuesday are counted.

Which means they could have skipped the initiative and simply passed a tax increase on their own. It's a fitting bit of irony for an election cycle that was filled with it.

Mia Love, a GOP Rising Star, Falls Short

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 12:18 PM EST
Mia Love speaks at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.

Utah Republicans must be apoplectic today. Despite gerrymandering his district for the second time in a decade, despite the presence of a Mormon GOP presidential candidate on the ballot, and even after spending a combined $5 million, the GOP has once again failed to rid the state of its last remaining congressional Democrat, Rep. Jim Matheson.

This year, the Republicans took their best shot yet at Matheson, who has survived a host of close races in his career. In this election cycle, Matheson faced a surprisingly strong candidate, Mia Love, the Haitian-American, Mormon, tea party conservative mayor of Saratoga Springs. Starting out as a virtual unknown, the telegenic part-time fitness instructor and former flight attendant landed a major speaking slot at the Republican convention in Tampa and became a national media darling. The party's biggest names stumped for Love in Utah, bringing her from a double-digit polling deficit in the spring to a five-point lead right before the election. The race shattered state spending records, and at $10 million, became the most expensive House race in state history. But in the end, even robocalls from Mitt Romney weren't enough to push Love into the winner's circle.

There had been much fear among Democrats that Utah voters would simply vote a straight GOP ticket thanks to Romney's presence at the top. But at least in the 4th District, where Matheson was running, that simply wasn't the case. The results of the election seemed to prove that Matheson knew what he was talking about when he told me this summer that Utahans are not the straight-ticket Republican voters they're often made out to be. He said his constituents really are true independent voters who vote the person, not the party.

Love's tea party policy views may have been too extreme even for one of the nation's reddest states (she even supported ending the federal school lunch program), though it's almost certain that she suffered from her campaign's disorganization. Despite reinforcements from Washington, Love's campaign was plagued with logistical problems (she stood up Romney when she was supposed to introduce him at the NAACP convention), staff turnover and embarrassing media episodes. After Mother Jones raised questions about the story she'd been telling about her family's immigration history, Love's campaign tried to deflect some of the fallout by releasing an internal poll claiming she had taken a 13-point lead in the race.

Love's campaign seemed unable to manage even the basic paperwork required to rent a table at a Utah teachers' convention this fall, a mishap that left her wandering the exhibit hall handing out flyers in violation of the rules. Making the jump from mayor of a town of 18,000 (where Love was elected with a mere 800 or so votes) to member of Congress representing more than 700,000 people in a brand-new district, required a well-coordinated ground game, and that's probably where Matheson outhustled Love. Matheson prevailed by only about 2800 votes, according to the still-unofficial count. But Utah's Democrats, who have been very lukewarm on Matheson because of his conservatism, seem to have rallied to save their voice in Congress. Reports the Deseret News:

Utah Democratic Party chairman Jim Dabakis said his party saw the Romney tsunami coming.

"We worked harder. We knocked on more doors. We organized as we've never done before, and I think it made a difference," he said, citing the work of the newly formed LDS Democrats and other groups for Matheson's win.

Matheson has been criticized by some in his party for being a "Democrat in name only," because of his vote against Obamacare and other key liberal legislation, and they've suggested that it wouldn't matter much for the state whether he was reelected or not. But while Matheson has been a solid Blue Dog Democrat, the differences between him and Love were stark, especially when it came to the environment. Matheson, who was once a lobbyist for a DC environmental group, has been an strong voice in the House for protecting Utah's wilderness and watershed areas. Love campaigned on a platform calling for turning Utah's federal park lands over to the state, which would potentially open them up for mining and drilling.

Despite her loss, Love will probably not disappear from the political scene. She's still mayor of Saratoga Springs, of course. And like Sarah Palin, she clearly has a future as a Fox News analyst. But also, the Romney campaign and the national GOP relied heavily on Love during this year's campaign season to dispel criticism that theirs is a party of old white men. Even if Republicans can't take another shot at redistricting Matheson for another eight or nine years, they can prep Love for a rematch in 2014, and after her embarrassing defeat this week, she will probably be spoiling for a fight.

Democrat Jon Tester Wins Montana Senate Stand Off

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 12:13 PM EST

Each man in the Montana Senate race wanted to prove he was the bigger cowboy. The contest attracted record-breaking campaign donations that worked out to about $16 per cow. And after a long night of ballot counting, the Associated Press announced Wednesday morning that the winner of this Western standoff is seven-fingered incumbent Democrat Jon Tester, whose victory ensures Democrats and their allies will control at least 53 seats in the Senate.

The race between Tester and Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg was among the most closely watched of this election cycle, with the two candidates running neck and neck throughout the campaign. Outside groups, including Karl Rove's American Crossroads, spent at least $23 million running attack ads in the state, making it the most expensive race in Montana's history.

Tester, a third-generation farmer, has served on the Senate since 2007. He's pro-choice, supports Obamacare, and voted to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, even though he doesn't support gay marriage. He took a strong stance against the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, predicting it would be "disastrous for our democracy." He even proposed that both he and Rehberg should pledge to refuse any Super PAC or third-party group support during the Senate race—a suggestion that Rehberg shot down.

Rehberg, a fifth-generation rancher, tried to portray himself as a maverick by skipping the Republican National Convention and highlighting his opposition to the Paul Ryan's budget in campaign ads. But the GOPer drew criticism over his enthusiasm for domestic drilling, staunch denial of climate change, and past opposition to AIDS funding. According to Rehberg, "The problem with AIDS is, you get it, you die, so why are we spending any money on people that get it[?]"

A super-PAC funded by Tester supporters made a last-minute $500,000 ad buy for Dan Cox, a libertarian candidate who looks certain to draw more than 5 percent of the vote. The Montana GOP has accused Tester supporters of dirty tricks for allegedly trying to funnel Rehberg votes to Cox. They're right to be peeved: Cox's vote total is currently greater than Tester's winning margin, adding weight to the theory that the libertarian's presence in the race may have made the difference.

This year's Montana Senate race will also be remembered for its strange, entertaining campaign ads: Rehberg supporters made fun of Tester's haircut, accused him of not tipping and said Obama and Tester were twins. The Montana Democratic party tried to frame Rehberg as a drunk and showed Tester bringing Montana beef to Washington. And then there was the ad for Cox showing a guy on a hunting trip with his son shooting out a security camera. Boring, the Montana Senate race was not.

Republicans Have Lost Their 60-Year Advantage on National Security

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 11:57 AM EST

I'll probably end up doing a bunch of random post-election reaction stuff today, so let's start with Dan Drezner:

A glance at the exit polls showed that Obama won the foreign policy question pretty handily. Only five percent of respondents thought that foreign policy was the most critical issue in this campaign — but of those five percent, voters went for Obama over Romney by 56% to 33%. Voters were also more likely to trust Barack Obama in an international crisis (57%-42%) than Mitt Romney (50%-46%).

This is the first exit poll in at least three decades where the Democrat has outperformed the Republican on foreign policy and national security. And I guarantee that whoever runs from the GOP side in 2016 will not have a ton of foreign policy experience. The GOP has managed to squander an advantage in perceived foreign policy competency that it had owned for decades. This — combined with shifts on social issues and demographics — will be a problem that the Republicans are going to need to address.

Thanks, George Bush! We like to say that Americans have short memories, and that's true in a way. On the other hand, a majority of voters still blame Bush for the lousy economy more than they blame Obama, and the Bush destruction of the Republican brand on foreign policy still seems to be going strong too.

A razor-thin loss hardly means that the Republican brand is doomed, but I don't think there's much question that the GOP, in general, is moving in the wrong direction and its extremist wing is finally catching up to it. In four years, they'll likely face both a growing economy and an electorate that's a couple of points browner than it is today, and that's going to be a strong headwind. Add to that growing tolerance for things like gay marriage and a Democratic advantage (or tie) on national security issues, and they face a pretty tough future.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 7, 2012

Wed Nov. 7, 2012 11:29 AM EST

Sgt. Kyle M. Crance, weapons and tactics instructor and CH-46E Sea Knight crew chief, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 (Rein.), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fires a M240D machine gun while flying over the Indian Ocean, Oct. 25.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. John Robbart III.

Did California Voters Defeat the Food Movement Along With Prop. 37?

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 11:00 AM EST

"Come at the king, you best not miss," the character Omar famously observed on The Wire. Does the law of the streets apply to the politics of food? Writing in the The New York Times Magazine last month, Michael Pollan laid down the gauntlet on Prop. 37, the California ballot initiative that would have required labeling of genetically modified foods. "One of the more interesting things we will learn on Nov. 6 is whether or not there is a 'food movement' in America worthy of the name—that is, an organized force in our politics capable of demanding change in the food system," he wrote.

Pollan ended his essay by suggesting that passage of Prop. 37 would be a sure way to convince President Obama of the importance of food-system reform.

Over the last four years I’ve had occasion to speak to several people who have personally lobbied the president on various food issues, including G.M. labeling, and from what I can gather, Obama’s attitude toward the food movement has always been: What movement? I don’t see it. Show me. On Nov. 6, the voters of California will have the opportunity to do just that.

And make no mistake, Prop. 37 was the food-system equivalent to a lunge at the king. No fewer than two massive sectors of the established food economy saw it as a threat: the GMO seed/agrichemical industry, led by giant companies Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, and Bayer; and the food-processing/junk-food industries who transform GMO crops into profitable products, led by Kraft, Nestle, Coca-Cola, and their ilk. Collectively, these companies represent billions in annual profits; and they perceived a material threat to their bottom lines in the labeling requirement, as evidenced by the gusher of cash they poured into defeating it (more on that below).

Well, now the deed is done. We'll never know if Prop. 37 would have emboldened Obama, now re-elected, to change course on food policy. What does its failure mean for what Pollan calls the food movement?

"It Doesn't Get Any More Bleak Than This"

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 3:39 AM EST

The news moved slowly through the crowd. There were no boos, no hisses, no dropped glasses. Country singer Jamie O'Neal and the band had just finished the last song of their set. But there was Fox News anchor Bret Baier, on the big screen at the Republican National Convention's election night party in downtown Washington, soberly delivering the news: President Obama was projected the winner of Ohio's 18 electoral votes.

"That's the presidency," Baier said.

"It's over," added Fox White House correspondent Ed Henry.

Gay Marriage Finally Wins at the Polls

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 3:23 AM EST

Tuesday was an historic first for gay marriage—three times over.

Voters in Maryland, Maine, and Washington all approved ballot measures—by significant margins—allowing gay marriage in their states. Never before have voters gone to the polls in any state and directly approved gay marriage.

Maryland's vote affirms the state legislature's passage of same-sex marriage in February. Maine's reverses a 2009 referendum that blocked gay marriage. Washington state's decision to approve marriage equality builds on its 2009 vote that expanded domestic partnerships to something called, at the time, "everything but marriage."

Meanwhile, marriage rights advocates await a final tally in Minnesota, where a ballot measure asked voters whether to amend the state constitution to explicitly ban gay marriage. Since the state already has a law banning same-sex marriages, a defeat of the measure wouldn't make gay marriage legal.  But it would prevent the state from erecting yet another obstacle to approving them in the future.

UPDATE, 12:40 PDT: Minnesotans have defeated the attempt to amend the state's constituition to ban gay marriage, giving four victories to same-sex marriage supporters.