Mojo - November 2010

Rick Scott Buys, Er, Wins Florida Governor Race

| Wed Nov. 3, 2010 11:00 AM EDT

At least one of the self-funded "outsiders" of the 2010 midterms got something for his money. Unlike big-spenders Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina in California and Linda McMahon in Connecticut, Florida conservative Rick Scott, the health care executive whose former company engaged in massive Medicare and Medicaid fraud under his watch, narrowly edged out Democrat Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer, in the Sunshine State's bitterly fought gubernatorial race. So close was the race—at 11 am on Wednesday, Scott led 49 to 48 percent—that Sink didn't concede to Scott until Wednesday near midday, even though pundits projected Scott to win much earlier Wednesday morning.  In all, Scott spent more than $70 million of his own money (his net worth is 2009 was $218 million) to topple Sink.

Scott brings to the governor's mansion in Tallahassee quite a checkered past. For starters, there's that $1.7 billion federal fine—the largest of its kind in American history—slapped on the hospital chain that Scott founded and led as CEO, Columbia/HCA, for health care overbilling. (Scott was not charged in the federal investigation, but the company pleaded guilty to 14 felony charges.) Since then, Scott has fended off similar accusations of overbilling by Solantic, the health clinic chain he subsequently founded and in which he's the majority investor.

During the long slog to pass a health care reform bill, Scott helped to spearhead the anti-reform forces. The group he founded, Conservatives for Patients' Rights, warned in advertisements that the new bill "could put a bureaucrat in charge of your medical decisions, not you." Scott himself said the bill was "horrible for patients, it’s horrible for taxpayers, it’s horrible for business people." Like his gubernatorial campaign, Scott's attack group was largely a self-funded effort, with Scott spending $5 million of his own money to start CPR.

As for Scott's policy positions, they hew pretty closely to the Republican party line. He's pro-life. He opposes same-sex marriage rights. He's called for bringing an Arizona-type immigration law to Florida. He wants to trim the size of the Florida government by slimming its workforce by 5 percent and cutting state spending to 2004 levels. And despite the BP Macondo well disaster, Scott wants to expand offshore drilling off of Florida's coastlines.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Bennet Holds on in Colorado—But It's Still Too Early in Alaska

| Wed Nov. 3, 2010 10:15 AM EDT

UPDATE, 9:20 a.m. MST: The Denver Post is calling it for Democrat Michael Bennet. The latest tally has Bennet ahead by 7,500 votes, which is a margin of just 0.4 percent. But the remaining votes to be counted are from largely blue areas, which indicates that Bennet will likely pull ahead and avoid a recount.

The campaigns of Republican Ken Buck and Democrat Michael Bennet both turned in for the night on Tuesday with the Colorado race left uncalled. With 87 percent of the state's precincts reporting this morning, Bennet was ahead by less than one percentage point—fewer than 7,000 votes out of 1.4 million in the state—which means it could be a few days, possibly weeks, before a winner is officially declared.

Both campaigns said they expected to prevail. The Buck campaign told the fans gathered at the election night party in Greenwood Village, Colo. that they were waiting for all votes to be counted, but were confident. "I guarantee we will have a new U.S. senator—Ken Buck," state GOP state chair Dick Wadhams told the small crowd that remained after midnight. The Buck campaign is expecting to benefit from military and other mail-in ballots.

Bennet's campaign was equally confident: "This race is very close, but we believe that when every single vote is counted Michael will come out on top," said Bennet spokesman Trevor Kincaid. The Democrat's campaign pointed to uncounted votes in some of the state's blue areas.

Both candidates declined to give a speech Tuesday night, with up to 100,000 votes still uncounted. If the difference is less than one-half of a percentage point, state law here requires a recount.

The Alaska Senate race might also take some time to resolve. As of last night, write-in candidates had claimed 40 percent of the vote—with most of those expected to be for Lisa Murkowski, the Republican incumbent who made an outside bid to keep her seat. Tea-party backed candidate Joe Miller had 35 percent, while Democrat Scott McAdams had 24 percent.

Murkowski indicated on Tuesday night that she expected to prevail in her write-in bid, which would mark the first time a write-in candidate has won since 1954, when Strom Thurmond won in South Carolina's senate race. "We are in the process of making history," Murkowski told CNN. And, despite some harsh words exchanged with her Republican colleagues in the course of this election, she said she intends to continue caucusing with them. "I am not my party's nominee, but I am a Republican," she said. "I caucused with the Republicans and I intend to continue."

CA to Tea Party: Been There, Done That!

| Wed Nov. 3, 2010 8:45 AM EDT

Like one of those homes in the tinderbox hills above Los Angeles that miraculously survives a wildfire that scorches the rest of the neighborhood, California held on last night against the Republican rager that swept the nation. This was more than just a matter of luck or progressive temperament, though. This trend-setting state had a buildup of conservative, anti-establishment voters long before they became known as tea partiers. But they've already wreaked their havoc and mostly burned themselves out. There's not much populist outrage left around the house of California. Mostly there's just smoldering populist exhaustion.

Back in 2003 it was a different story. In an unprecedented recall election, voters who were incensed by California's energy crisis swept out the establishment Democratic governor, Gray Davis, and replaced him with a political outsider who pledged to cut taxes, root out "waste, fraud, and abuse," and say "hasta la vista" to liberal special interests. Sound familiar? Now, of course, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is as unpopular as Gray Davis was during the recall. And California voters saw no reason on Tuesday to believe that Meg Whitman would turn out any differently. One nifty ad juxtaposed video clips of Schwarzenegger and Whitman mouthing off the exact same talking points.

Schwarzenegger's failures aren't entirely his fault; he's been stymied by opposition from ideologues in his own party. Although Republicans make up only about a third of the state legislature, they wield an outsized influence over the state budget and taxes, which both require a two-thirds supermajority to become law. Pathologically unwilling to compromise, Republicans in the legislature have repeatedly spiked budget negotiations, forcing the state to allow its credit rating to be downgraded and even issue IOU checks to its workers in order to provide basic services.

This might be what tea party/Republican rule looks like in America between now and 2012. Many of the incoming Republican freshmen see a mandate to obstruct the Democratic economic agenda in almost any way possible. And as I've noted, Rand Paul alone could substantially freeze legislation and appointments in the already glacially slow-to-act US Senate.

But the California experience also suggests that none of this will last. Fed up with the state's fiscal gridlock, voters passed a referendum yesterday that stripped the GOP of its cherished supermajority requirement for passing a budget. They decided that hothead outsiders might not accomplish as much as veteran legislators (Governor-elect Jerry Brown and returning Senator Barbara Boxer are both long-time politicians). And they held the line against a substantial GOP takeover of House seats and an assault on the state's groundbreaking climate change law. If California is any indication, the Republican wildfire of 2010 will be hot, but it won't last long enough to keep the tea pot boiling.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 3, 2010

Wed Nov. 3, 2010 5:30 AM EDT

Soldiers are tested in a react to fire drill, during a spur ride held on Victory Base Complex by United States Forces-Iraq III Corps Special Troops Battalion, Oct. 24. This was the last scheduled spur ride of III Corps' tour in Iraq. They were able to welcome a group of XVIII Airborne Corps soldiers to Iraq as eight Airborne soldiers from Fort Bragg participated in the event. Five of them completed the challenge to be inducted into the Order of the Spur. Photo via U.S. Army.

The New Landscape

| Wed Nov. 3, 2010 4:00 AM EDT

Early on, there were signs it was going to be a rough night for Democrats. Members of the House who had been expected to survive, like Virginia's Rick Boucher, lost early. So did more vulnerable Reps. like Florida's Alan Grayson, Virginia's Tom Perriello, and Indiana's Baron Hill. By 11 p.m., when Sen. Russ Feingold went down in Wisconsin, the Senate was looking pretty bleak, too. Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania and Alexi Giannoulias in Illinois, who had both held early leads, were declared losers around midnight. Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland also lost around the same time. Gubernatorial races in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania weren't nearly as close—and those defeats, combined with Dem losses in state legislative races, will give the GOP full control over congressional redistricting in most of the battleground Great Lakes states. 

There were some bright spots for Dems—Harry Reid won in Nevada, as did Barbara Boxer in California. But the real questions for Wednesday are for President Barack Obama. What will he do now? How will he respond to the Dems' defeat? David Corn has more on that here: Obama's Next Act.

Boehner to GOP: Sober Up!

| Wed Nov. 3, 2010 2:59 AM EDT

By the time John Boehner took the podium at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, DC, the stage was set for the Republican restoration. The major networks had called a GOP takeover of the House hours earlier—with even more freshmen than came to Capitol Hill during Newt Gingrich's 1994 revolution. But amid the jubilant shouts from the crowd—"I love you!" "That's my boy"! "USA! USA! USA!"—the future House majority leader attempted to send the message that his supporters needed to sober up for a moment.

"This is not a time for celebration...not when we have buried our children under a mountain of debt," Boehner said as the crowd cheered and held up cell phone cameras. He repeated the "get serious" mantra moments later: "Let's start right now by recognizing this is not a time for celebration. This is a time to roll up our sleeves and go to work."

Even before Election Day, the National Republican Campaign Committee insisted that it wasn't going to be popping campaign corks on Tuesday night. The Grand Hyatt event "is not a 'party'—even if voters remove Democrats from power, you don't celebrate at a time when one in 10 Americans are out of work," a NRCC spokesman said last week.

The message, in other words, is that the Republicans will be serious about governing once they take power—and will vow to show restraint, despite having an obscenely large majority. But GOPers have already begun to list some of the obstructionist hijinks they could resort to once they take the House: ceaseless investigations into federal agencies, threats of impeachment, and anything it takes for Obama to end up being a one-term president.

Moreover, the influx of far-right and tea party-backed House members could encourage the GOP to pursue ideological crusades that end up consuming the party's agenda. And at least one veteran of the 1994 Republican revolution warned the GOP about venturing down such a path. "We had gotten distracted by some symbolic battles...government-subsidized art, for instance," says Michael Paranzino, a staffer for former Arizona GOP Rep. Matt Salmon, a member of Gingrich's freshmen class.

Paranzino warned the reborn GOP against launching small-bore, yet ideologically inflammatory crusades such as probes of PBS funding. "It's a lot of energy for a few million dollars here or there," he says, adding that Gingrich's 1998 downfall in the House gave him "the taste of disenchantment with a do-nothing Congress."

But despite early vows of restraint from ascendant leaders like Rep. Darrell Issa, the fist-pumping crowd at the Grand Hyatt made it harder to believe that the new Republican majority would be inclined to hold back. "It's a fucking bloodbath!" yelped one young attendee as more House results came up on the screen. When I asked a tight-lipped Hill staffer what he expected from a GOP-controlled House, he simply replied: "It's going to be entertaining."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Dispatch from Oakland: The Last Blue Place

| Wed Nov. 3, 2010 1:51 AM EDT

Looking out on the floor of the Fox Theater in downtown Oakland, you'd never think that the 2010 elections have been an utterly catastrophic disaster for the Democratic party. As I'm typing this, there's a conga-line—or something close to it—forming on the floor below the stage, and a dozen or so couples are cutting a rug to the swing band up above. Occasionally, the crowd will get restless, and a chant of "Jer-ry! Jer-ry!" will begin, and then sputter out after a few short bursts. They're all here for Jerry Brown, the state's once-and-future governor (and secretary of state, and attorney general, and mayor of Oakland), who's just defeated Meg Whitman and is expected to address supporters here later tonight.

California might be the one state in the union tonight where Democrats can feel legitimately good (if still a little confused) about the way things turned out. Sure, they'll lose a few House seats, but Barbara Boxer held onto her senate seat, and Brown, despite a $141 million-challenge from former eBay CEO Whitman, returned the governor's mansion to the Democrats for the first time in seven years. Proposition 23, the ballot provision that would have reversed the state's progressive climate change law, went down to defeat. All is well for Golden State Democrats. Or at least as well as you'd hope, given the circumstances.

"I don't care what's going on in the rest of the country," says Marianne Kearney-Brown of Napa. "Because we're gonna have Jer-ry Brown!” 

Really, the only real setback was the defeat of Prop 19, which would have legalized marijuana. But to the provision's supporters, who assembled just down the street from Brown's victory party, in the parking lot of the pot-centric Oaksterdam University, losing was hardly the end of the world.

As Nela Mendoza of Oakland explained to me, "If it passes, well, fuck, we'll burn, dude! And if it doesn't pass...we'll burn anyway." Word.

Silver Lining in Florida's GOP Romp

| Wed Nov. 3, 2010 1:40 AM EDT

If you're a Democrat in Florida, Election Day was a brutal one. Not only did conservative Marco Rubio cruise to victory in his state's Senate race, but Republican Rick Scott is poised to claim the governor's mansion, tea party favorite Allen West defeated incumbent Ron Klein by nearly 10 points, and incumbent Democratic congressmen Alan Grayson and Suzanne Kosmas both lost by nearly 20 points each. With so many Republicans taking power in the Sunshine State, and with Republicans winning a two-thirds majority in the state legislature, the fear is that the party in control will use its power to redraw district lines and try to solidify its hold on government.

But there's something of a silver lining in Florida's elections. At the same time they elected numerous Republicans to office, Florida voters approved two constitutional amendments making it more difficult for the party in power to redraw state legislative and congressional districts in their favor. At 1:30 am on Wednesday, both amendments had 63 percent of the public's backing. (In Florida, constitutional amendments need 60 percent support to pass.)

The kind of pro-incumbent political redistricting these two amendments aim to prevent is exactly what the GOP wants. As my colleague Nick Baumann wrote on Monday, redistricting power is everything: "The real prize in Tuesday's midterm elections is the power to draw congressional seats and determine the country's balance of power for the next decade." He added:

If either party can achieve what politicos call the "trifecta"—control of the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature—in a given state, it will be able to draw congressional districts within that state unencumbered by any need to compromise with the other party. That's the kind of power that creates electoral maps like the one former GOP Majority Leader Tom Delay helped bring to Texas in 2003—a map that pushed four of the state's Democrats out of their seats.

But with Floridians choosing to block this kind of political scheming, they've gone a long way toward preventing the Florida GOP from abusing their power to the point where that party can create a near-permanent majority of their own.

Why Harry Reid Won

| Wed Nov. 3, 2010 12:45 AM EDT

A dozen or more. Every day, even weekends. The emails from the Harry Reid campaign and the Nevada Democratic Party just kept pouring in throughout Reid's vicious battle with conservative Sharron Angle, with subject lines like "Alright, Sharron Angle Can't Possibly Top This One..." and "It's Official: Sharron Angle Will Say or Do Anything to Get Elected" and "How Sharron Angle’s Record Proves She’d Be a Miserable Failure in the US Senate." The missives ripped Reid's tea party opponent for her hypocrisy, her refusal to take questions from the media, and her bizarre statements. And it looks like they worked, but only barely.

Harry Reid, the flinty-eyed majority leader of the Senate, triumphed over Angle by the slimmest of margins in one of the most closely watched races of the 2010 midterms. The loss marks a major blow for the tea party, which had pumped tens of millions of dollars and countless time into Angle's campaign. Her fight against Reid was also one of the dirtiest of the 2010 elections, with both campaigns cutting harsh attack ads aimed at landing the knockout punch to secure victory. The Reid-Angle race was one of the most expensive of this election cycle: The two candidates combined to spend $42 million on their campaigns, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

But, in the end, it was likely Sharron Angle's highlight reel of gaffes and shockers that sealed her defeat. Here's the Cliffs Notes version of Angle's myriad campaign flubs:

  • In June, she claimed that out-of-work Americans receiving unemployment insurance (she called it an "entitlement") were "spoiled." She added, dubiously, "You can make more money on unemployment than you can going down and getting one of those jobs that is an honest job."
  • A month later, Angle was asked about her position on abortion. In burnishing her pro-life cred, she uttered a monumental whopper, stating that young girls who'd been raped by their fathers and become pregnant should make "a lemon situation into lemonade." Yep, you read that right.
  • That same month, Angle's campaign offered a pathetically tepid disavowal—if you could even call it that—to tea party leader Mark Williams' infamous screed that called slavery "a great gig" and claimed the NAACP makes "more money off of race than any slave trader, ever." Indeed, Angle herself failed to come out against Williams' comments at all, despite the media firestorm that ensued after Williams published his offensive remarks.
  • Then, later in July, Angle was asked about what her plan was to spur job creation in Nevada. To which she replied, well, um, that she didn't exactly have a plan:

"It really comes from the statehouse to incentivize that kind of stuff in our state," Angle said. "Truly, the lieutenant governor, Brian Krolicki, you should have this conversation with him. That's his job, to make sure that we get business into this state. My job is to create the climate so that everybody wants to come."

The woman gave her a puzzled look. "I'm sure you're probably planning on working with these people to do these things," Drenta said, hopefully. "Because it's the end result that matters, whether it's specifically in the job description or not."

In Angle's case, there was no amount of tea party enthusiasm, small-donor support, and political strategy that could convince Nevadans to elect her to the Senate.

Tom Tancredo Wins By Losing

| Wed Nov. 3, 2010 12:37 AM EDT

Tom Tancredo's headquarters boosted a rocking party Tuesday night, with line-dancing and a country-western band playing cover tunes, but the enthusiasm for his insurgent, third-party campaign was not enough to pull ahead of the Democratic candidate, John Hickenlooper, in the race for Colorado governor.

Hickenlooper ended the night with a safe margin, pulling ahead of Tancredo, who ran on the American Constitution Party ticket. Tancredo's hard-line views on illegal immigration, his suggestion that non-Christian immigrants should leave the country, and his ruminations about Mexicans plotting a cross-border terrorist attack might not have won over a majority of Colorado voters, but his numbers certainly said a lot about how people here were feeling about the state's Republican Party and its candidate, Dan Maes.

In Maes, Colorado Republicans managed to find a candidate whose personal history and views drove voters away—right to Tancredo. Maes' claims that the state capitol's plan to encourage bicycling amounted to "converting Denver into a United Nations community" possibly measured as one of the least-bizarre things he said over the course of the election. Maes ended the night with just 8 percent of the vote.

When I talked to voters at his party headquarters, the Stampede Dance Hall, on Tuesday, most weren't particularly pleased with the state GOP. "The Republicans have let me down lately," said Vinny Rozanskas, a 63-year-old retired airline worker from Aurora. While he's registered GOP, he said he probably leans more libertarian, and has a tea party sign at his townhouse. "Either party could go down the tubes and it wouldn't bother me in the least."

Jan Wilson, 58 of Denver, initially backed Maes—and frequently "liked" his Facebook posts, she told me—but felt he should have dropped out of the race when it became clear that he had little chance of winning. Maes staying in the race cost Tancredo the governorship, she said. "Why didn't he just pull out?" she asked. "Now the Republicans are going to be the minority party. That's bullshit."