For once, an election that might make a difference.
Thursday, November 9, 2006
Tuesday, Nov. 7, 10pm. As I write this, Democrats nationwide are dropping the caution that has guarded their optimism. They are already freaking out with joy. It has been clear for an hour or so that their party has retaken the House of Representatives. It is also certain that they have won several key Senate races. In fact (I can hardly write these words for fear of the jinx): It looks like they might even take the Senate.
The night is not nearly over but it is obvious that we are witnessing a political watershed. Yesterday, the nation was largely ruled by one party, which treated the opposition as though it did not exist. Congressional Democrats virtually disappeared. For six years—six years—nothing was discussed on Capitol Hill that wasn’t dictated or approved by the Republican leadership. That will now change.
This could mean the end of a poisonous brand of campaigning.
With control of the House, the Democrats will be able to introduce laws, hold hearings, put issues onto the national agenda. This is a big deal. But I do not find myself bubbling over with hope.
• • •
Tuesday, Nov. 7, 11pm. Like everyone else, I am following a handful of key Senate races. Of seven contests that were considered to be in play, Democrats appear to have won three (Pennsylvania, Ohio and Rhode Island). Tennessee looks to be going to the Republicans. Virginia, Missouri and Montana are too close to call—if the Democrats win all three they will have control of the Senate.
Montana holds particular interest for me—I lived there for a long time and I have a lot of friends there. The state’s Republican senator, Conrad Burns, has been an embarrassment to many Montanans since he won his seat in 1988 (and became the second Republican senator in the state’s history). Last year Burns was caught up in the Abramoff scandal, and now he faces a serious challenge from Jon Tester, a straight-talking farmer.
I am also following the race in California’s 11th Congressional District, which includes portions of Contra Costa, Santa Clara and San Joaquin counties. That district belongs to Rep. Richard Pombo, the chair of the House Resources Committee and the most powerful enemy of the environment in Washington.
Pombo has called for selling public lands to mining interests. He wants to log wilderness areas and drill for oil in federal wildlife reserves. His campaign was paid for by oil, gas and timber companies. Generally, I don’t hold much personal animosity for people with whom I have political differences. But this guy I hate.
Pete McCloskey, the 79-year-old former Republican Congressman (and environmental hero), came out of retirement to challenge Pombo in the primary. Pombo won but was hurt. The Democratic challenger, Jerry McNerney, now has a shot.
Last week, on the day before her 60th birthday, First Lady Laura Bush came to California to stump for Pombo. “Rep. Pombo is an enthusiastic steward of our country’s natural resources,” she said. “Because of his leadership, wildlife, property and people will be protected.”
That is a lie. I happen to like Laura Bush, but I am sick of that kind of dishonesty. This election cycle was ugly with lies, manufactured for the most part by Republican strategists. Democratic candidates nationwide faced attacks that twisted their records and misrepresented their positions. (We saw some of this locally in the wall-to-wall attack ads against Anna Caballero run by her Republican challenger, Ignacio Velazquez.)
Right now, Pombo is trailing. I hope he loses, not merely because he’s a bad congressman—I hope he loses because his defeat might mean Americans are fed up with the lies. I am optimistic that if the lies and the attack ads do not work, this election could mean the end of a poisonous brand of campaigning. But it is a cautious optimism.
• • •
Wednesday, Nov. 8, 1am. The local election-night festivities are over and the Weekly’s reporters have filed their stories. Unlike some recent election nights, there are no big surprises and no big disappointments. Locally, we will face the same challenges tomorrow that we faced yesterday, with some new faces and perhaps some renewed hopes.
On the state level, things look OK. I’m sad but not suprised that the alternative-energy oil tax failed, and disgusted that the campaign finance measure went down. But mostly Sacramento is status quo.
Meanwhile, in Virginia, with 99 percent of precincts reporting, Democrat Jim Webb leads Republican George Allen by one point. In Montana, with 91 percent of the votes counted, Jon Tester leads Conrad Burns by one point.
I’m not an optimist when it comes to politics. But tomorrow could be a new day for America.