By JIM CULLEN
Monopoly Hard to Beat in Politics;
Winner-Take-All Dampens Turnout
The winner-take-all electoral system used in legislative and congressional
races in the United States has resulted in lopsided victories in 83 percent
of all U.S. House races even before the ballots are cast, according to the
Center for Voting and Democracy.
The Center, in its report, "Monopoly Politics," available online
at www.fairvote.org, predicts the winners for 83% of all U.S. House elections.
The analysis finds only 74 out of 435 seats are "up for grabs."
The Center also announced the winners for 91% of state Assembly races and
77% of U.S. House races in California, three weeks before the general election.
"All the talk of how California's new open primary, or the governor's
race, or even the Clinton scandal, might affect elections and create more
competitive elections overlooks one glaring fact," said the Center's
west coast director, Steven Hill. "Most Assembly and U.S. House districts
will never be competitive because a clear majority of voters in these districts
prefer one political party over the other."
Either because of partisan gerrymandering and incumbent protection, whereby
the politicians pick the voters before the voters pick them, or due to the
dynamics of single-seat "winner take all" races that force voters
into one of two camps--Democrat or Republican--"demography is destiny."
In California, according to the Center, Democrats will win 33 Assembly seats
by a landslide (a margin of 20 points or higher) and six more seats by a
comfortable margin of 10 points or more. The Republicans will win 25 Assembly
seats by a landslide and nine seats by a comfortable 10-point margin. Only
seven Assembly races are too close to call.
"What this also means, unfortunately," said the Center's Hill,
"is that the voters in only seven districts will see exciting races
that are hotly contested and inspire them to participate. But for the voters
in the other 91% of California's state Assembly districts, the elections
are already over. In fact, they've been over for months. There's nothing
to get jazzed about, because those districts are too noncompetitive to cause
This fact, noted Hill, directly impacts voter enthusiasm and turnout. "The
Center's previous studies have shown that, not surprisingly, voter turnout
drops as the degree of competition decreases. It's a pity for the voters."
Add to this the general malaise produced by scandals in Washington D.C.,
and pre-election predictions indicate that November's turnout may be one
of the lowest yet.
"Monopoly Politics" finds that winners can be predicted with great
accuracy without knowing anything about inequities in campaign finance.
The report concludes that in most legislative districts in California and
the United States, campaign inequities are of secondary importance to partisan
demographics in determining winners. "In too many cases," said
Hill, "the only electoral option for voters is to ratify the choice
made for them by redistricting committees several years before."
"Monopoly Politics" also predicts that 34 out of 52 (65%) U.S.
House seats in California will be won by landslides, and six more seats
by a comfortable 10 point margin for a total of 40 out of 52 (77%). "These
races are already over," said Hill, "regardless of any goings-on
in Washington DC, like impeachment hearings or scandal, and regardless of
inequities in campaign finance." Only 10 out of 52 (19%) seats have
a chance to be close.
The Center for Voting and Democracy is a non-partisan, non-profit organization
that promotes voter participation and fair representation. It is sponsoring
a conference on proportional representation November 13-15 in Minneapolis.
For information on the conference or on "Monopoly Politics," contact
the Center at (415) 665-5044, PO Box 22411 San Francisco, CA 94122-2411,
email at email@example.com, or check the Internet at www.fairvote.org.
Some Key House Races
In the 49th District, San Diego City Councilwoman Christine Kehoe is running
an energetic campaign against incumbent Republican surfer Brian Bilbray.
Kehoe is running on a progressive platform that includes fighting crime,
fighting tobacco interests, protecting student loan programs, and advocating
HMO reform. Kehoe, however, has an uphill battle. As noted in the Cook
Political Report, despite his votes to reduce NEA funding and to weaken
the Clean Water Act, as well as his weak support for abortion rights, Bilbray
has managed to paint himself as a moderate.
In other races, Democrats are expected to pick up the 1st District Seat
Rep. Frank Riggs (R) is giving up in northern California. State Sen. Mike
Thompson, a vintner and self-proclaimed "New Democrat," is favored
to win in the 1st while Republican Doug Ose is expected to win in the 3rd
District (North Central Valley), where Democratic Rep. Vic Fazio (D) is
retiring. The 36th District (West LA County) is rated a tossup after Rep.
Jane Harman lost a Democratic primary bid for governor. Republican State
Assemblyman Steve Kuykendall, a moderate on social issues but economic conservative,
faces Democrat Janice Hahn in a district that gave Clinton a 6-point margin
of victory in 1992 and 1996, but has voted Republican in statewide contests.
Progressive Rep. George Brown faces another fight to keep his the 42nd District
seat in San Bernardino County, which has become increasingly Republican.
And in the 46th District (Orange County), Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D) will
face perhaps the ugliest rematch of the election against rabid right-winger
Bob Dornan, who she unseated by 984 votes in 1996.
Green candidates are running not only for governor and lieutenant governor
(Dan Hamburg and Sara Amir, respectively) and several local races, but also
in five congressional Districts. They include Phil Courtney in District
43 (Riverside) Robin Barrett, District 36 (LA South Bay coastal), Krista
Wong, District 31(San Gabriel Valley), Walt Sheasby, District 28 (San Gabriel
Valley), and Maria Armoudian, District 26, (San Fernando Valley).
As the state's economy lags behind the nation's, and voter discontent is
pretty high Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie faces an aggressive campaigner
in ultraconservative state Rep. Gene Ward. Abercrombie is fighting for educational
measures like reduced class sizes, increased hiring of teachers, greater
funding for school repair and construction, more computers in classrooms.
He was a leader in securing funding for the Youth Challenge program, which
provides structured learning environments for at-risk youth. He has also
come out strongly in favor of protecting our senior citizens by shoring
up Social Security in lieu of tax cuts.
17th District (West)
Rep. Lane Evans, a member of the Progressive Caucus in the House, a staunch
supporter of organized labor and a champion of veterans' rights, faces a
tough re-election challenge. As a ranking member of the Veterans Affairs
Committee, he successfully spearheaded the successful effort to pass Agent
Orange compensation. He also led the fight for a ban on land mines. Although
Evans is running a well-organized campaign for his 9th term, the district
is a tough one, with only 47% of voters identifying themselves as Democrats.
Also, Evans squeaked by his opponent, Republican former TV anchorman Mark
Baker in 1996 with 52% of the vote, but big business is expected to weigh
in with television advertising.
9th District (Southeast)
In the race for the southeast Indiana seat Democrat Lee Hamilton is giving
up, Democrat Baron Hill is running a tight race. A poll in August of likely
voters showed his opponent, State Senator Jean Leising, up 48% to 38%. At
that time the Clinton scandal appeared to be playing to Leising's advantage.
Hill recently had raised three times as much as Leising but third party
interest groups were expected to intervene and blast Hill for his solid
progressive stances on issues. Hill supports an increase in the minimum
wage, the bipartisan "Patient's Bill of Rights," and assistance
to schools for renovation and construction.
1st District (South)
Shelley Berkley, a lifelong Nevadan, is running ahead of Republican Don
Chairez for the seat Republican John Ensign gave up to run for the Senate.
The district traditionally votes Democratic but the electorate has become
more Republican over the years. Berkley was an elected Regent for Nevada's
University and Community College System, former president of a local PBS
and school district television station, and a member of her local school
district's advisory committee, and she favors smaller classes for students,
improved Internet access, better training for teachers, innovative dropout
prevention programs, as well as free summer school for kids.
Democrats have an outside chance at sweeping three Republicans out, including
two Republicans who won special elections, but Green candidates may play
the spoiler again in at least two of the races. In the 1st District (Albuquerque),
state Sen. Phil Maloof (D), who was defeated by 6 points by Heather Wilson
(R) in a June special election, gets a general election rematch with what
is expected to be a larger and more Democratic turnout. But Green candidate
Bob Anderson, an instructor at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque,
was polling double digit support in October.
In the 2nd District (South), Shirley Baca is a progressive former state
representative from Las Cruces who is in a rematch with incumbent Joe Skeen
(R). Although polls show her playing catchup, Democrats hope to register
and turn out the 190,000 Hispanics who live in the district, which borders
Mexico. Baca understands the need for strong social programs and economic
growth in the poorest state in the union. She supports initiatives to ensure
adequate childcare for children of working parents, fewer students per class,
strengthening Head Start programs, providing tax breaks to small businesses
who hire welfare-to-work recipients, and ending soft money loopholes that
allow the wealthy to donate unlimited amounts of money to political parties.
She strongly opposes the Gingrich Plan of raiding the surplus in the Social
Security Trust Fund to provide tax breaks for the wealthy. For schools,
she wants to see fewer students per classroom and capital improvements for
the thousands of schools in disrepair in New Mexico and around the country.
In the 3rd District (North and East Central), right-wing Rep. Bill Redmond
(R) owes his 1997 special election win to a strong showing from a Green
candidate. Redmond faces a stronger Democratic rival this year in Democrat
Tom Udall, the state attorney general. Carol Miller is back as a Green challenger.
Prominent Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, have appealed to the Greens
to vote Democratic and at least one prominent Green, Abraham Guttman, has
endorsed Udall's candidacy, but Miller, a public health worker, rejected
the reasoning for a Democratic vote, as expressed by Michael Moore in an
open letter on page 4.
"Bill Clinton ... should confess to being a co-dependent adult child
of alcoholics (ACOA) and stop forcing us to watch the dysfunctional behavior
of lie, blame, deny and cover-up by him, his family, the Cabinet and the
D's," Miller wrote. "I believe he should resign because this behavior
has carried over into his policies--a few examples: NAFTA is good for American
workers, this is a good welfare reform bill, we bombed Sudan to strike out
at a threat to the U.S., ad nauseum.
"A Democratic sweep would be a terrifying affirmation of lying and
cheating being rewarded behavior. It's not sex, it's sickness we are dealing
with. He could have taken responsibility and not lied months ago and the
whole issue would have been over. He could have settled the Paula Jones
case years ago. He is a scary man with too much power and a mental health
problem. He could actually help millions of others struggling with these
problems be being a role model, not a poster child for dysfunction.
"This 'reward' would send the family violence and substance abuse issues
back to the dark ages."
In the 26th District (South) Maurice Hinchey has sponsored the Shays-Meehan
campaign finance reform legislation, opposed privatizing Social Security,
and helped pass a child tax credit for low income families. Although Hinchey
is running for his third term in Congress, he has never gotten more than
55% of the vote. This election Hinchey faces two opponents: Terry Randall
of Operation Rescue and Republican Bud Walker. Randall might siphon off
some of Walker's potential votes, but the race is still close.
In the 31st District (South), Caleb Rossiter brings progressive intelligence
and commitment to his campaign. He holds a Cornell Ph.D. in Policy Analysis
and founded Demilitarization for Democracy, which aims to ban land mines
and to implement a Code of Conduct that would restrict the sale of arms
to dictators. He also plans to run 300 miles across his district in a "Run
for Jobs" to highlight the fact that during the tenure of his opponent,
six-term Republican Amory Houghton, unemployment has risen from 10% above
the national average to 40% above it. Rossiter is considered an underdog,
with 72% of the vote going to Houghton last election cycle, but the district
narrowly voted Democrat for president in 1996.
1st (West Cincinnati)
Roxanne Qualls, three-term mayor of Cincinnati, was in a dead heat challenging
two-term incumbent Republican Steve Chabot. Qualls has racked up a strong
record of progressive leadership for working families in Cincinnati. As
mayor she helped increase home ownership among low- and moderate-income
families and organized a summer youth employment program to teach children
work skills. In Congress, she intends to focus on protecting Social Security,
reforming managed health care, protecting neighborhoods from crime, and
enhancing public education. Chabot has criticized Qualls for publicly standing
by President Clinton, who personally recruited her for this race.
Democrat Lydia Spottswood, the former president of the Kenosha City Council,
has a good chance of winning this race and reclaiming this southeast Wisconsin
district. She faces Republican Paul Ryan, a former legislative director
for Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, as Republican Rep. Mark Neuman challenges
Sen. Russell Feingold. As a former nurse, Spottswood has made health care
a core issue of her campaigns, including a comprehensive plan to reform
HMOs. In addition, she promotes education improvements such as reducing
class sizes, disciplining potentially violent troublemakers and modernizing
In the 2nd District (South, Madison), state Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D), the
only openly gay member of the Wisconsin state legislature, faces former
state Insurance Commissioner Josephine Musser in a race to replace retiring
Rep. Scott Klug (R) in a traditionally Democratic seat. Baldwin supports
universal health care and has a solidly pro-labor voting record and the
AFL-CIO is expected to mount a vigorous effort to get out the vote.
Republicans have their best chance to pick up a seat in the 8th District
(Northeast-Green Bay, Appleton), where state Assemblyman Mark Green is challenging
incumbent Rep. Jay Johnson, a moderate Democrat who won the seat in 1996.
Key Senate races
Barbara Boxer, elected to the Senate in 1992, is in danger of losing her
seat to Republican state Treasurer Matt Fong, as polls have shown the race
to be a virtual dead heat. Boxer is a strong proponent of increasing the
minimum wage, passing a Patient's Bill of Rights, and improving public education.
During her first term in the Senate, Boxer helped create a one-stop Defense
Conversion Clearinghouse to help communities hit hard by defense cuts. She
also pushed through the Violence Against Women Act which she had introduced
as a House member.
Sen. Paul Coverdell, who started out the year as one of the most vulnerable
GOP senators in the South but has maintained double-digit leads in polls
over Democrat Michael Coles. A cookie magnate who ran unsuccessfully against
House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1996, Coles is relatively unknown, but the
race is expected to tighten and turnout will have a critical role for this
seat, which has changed party control in three consecutive elections. Coles
holds progressive positions on environmental regulation, education, HMO
reform and Social Security. He supports medical care for veterans, which
he said Coverdell and the Republican Congress have tried to cut, and he
would repeal the "marriage tax" that double-charges married couples
Probably the most endangered Democratic senator is Carol Moseley-Braun,
who has trailed in independent polls against right-wing Republican Peter
Fitzgerald, who supports turning Medicare into an HMO bureaucracy and is
on record favoring the elimination of the Department of Education. Senator
Moseley Braun is a leader in the fight to preserve Social Security and Medicare.
She wants HMO reforms that will allow doctor to make decisions about their
patients' health rather than the HMO bureaucrats. She also has called for
rebuilding schools that are in disrepair.
Former Gov. Evan Bayh (D) is expected to pick up the Senate seat given up
by right-wing Republican Sen. Dan Coats. Bayh, the son of liberal former
Sen. Birch Bayh, has staked out a "New Democrat" course that gives
pause to progressive Democrats, but he would be a distinct improvement over
either Coats or this year's Republican candidate, Fort Wayne Mayor Paul
The race for the seat Sen. Wendell Ford (D) is giving up is rated a tossup,
as Democrat Scotty Baesler faces Republican Jim Bunning in a hard-fought
race in a state that still has a nominal Democratic leaning. Baesler had
a moderately progressive voting record in three terms in the House, breaking
with the Clinton Administration mainly over tobacco. Bunning, a solid conservative,
can count on the help of National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman
Sen. Harry Reid (D), who has a generally progressive voting record, faces
a tough fight for re-election against right-wing Rep. John Ensign (R). Polls
showed the race was a tossup in a state that Bill Clinton narrowly carried
U.S. Rep. Charles E. Schumer has become known for anti-crime and particularly
gun control efforts, which play better in his Brooklyn district than in
the state at large, but he also has compiled a pro-consumer record as a
ranking Democrat on the Banking Committee and has a solidly progressive
voting record. He is challenging the ethically challenged incumbent Republican
Sen. Alphonse D'Amato in a race that is rated a tossup.
John Edwards, a Raleigh trial lawyer with populist roots, is challenging
Lauch Faircloth, a businessman so conservative, according to The Nation,
that he refers to Jesse Helms as North Carolina's liberal senator. Faircloth,
whose agribusiness operations have been cited for numerous health, environmental
and worker safety violations, has championed environmental deregulation
and draconian welfare reform while Edwards promises to side with working-class
folks. "I've spent the last 20 years representing people against powerful
institutions: insurance companies, banks," Edwards told The Nation.
He pledged that he would represent the people who have been left out of
the process, be they rural communities whose rivers have been contaminated
or patients who can't get lifesaving medical procedures because of HMO greed.
Sen. Fritz Hollings (D) faces a tough challenge from Rep. Bob Inglis (R).
Hollings has antagonized some progressives, particularly organized labor,
with his efforts to make it harder for Federal Express workers to unionize
and his opposition to a ban on replacing striking workers, but he generally
has a progressive voting record, supports campaign finance overhaul, has
staunchly opposed Republican efforts to undermine state product liability
legislation and as a critic of free trade he has fought efforts to undermine
Congress' role in trade negotiations. In short, he is about the best progressives
can hope for in increasingly Republican South Carolina. Inglis is a conservative
aligned with the Christian Coalition.
Patty Murray, "the mom in tennis shoes," as it turns out, treads
a reliably progressive path through the halls of the Senate. Her key issues
are education, the environment, and a woman's right to choose. Murray has
written legislation which would reduce class size, increase training for
teachers, and give parents time to attend activities at their childrenís
schools. While Murray's pollsters show her with a lead, the right wing is
lined solidly behind opponent Republican Rep. Linda Smith.
Sen. Russ Feingold (D) challenged Rep. Mark Neumann (R) to agree to a campaign
spending cap of $3.8 billion dollars and has refused to take advantage of
unregulated "soft" money, which goes to the party. Unfortunately,
Neumann, who is in the pocket of conservative special interests, has already
benefited from those interests through a million dollars worth of favorable
television ads. Democrats 2000, a political action committee that supports
progressive populist Democrats, wrote: "The contrast between progressive
and reactionary could not be starker. Feingold has stuck consistently with
our seniors by voting to protect the Social Security Trust Fund; his opponent
has not. Feingold has fought consistently for environmental protection;
his opponent has been voted as one of Congress' 'Dirty Dozen' by the nonpartisan
League of Conservation Voters. Feingold has fought for smaller class sizes,
protection of student aid programs; his opponent wants to privatize our
schools and eliminate student aid programs. Feingold is doing a terrific
job of safeguarding the public interest, we don't need a new man in his
seat, especially not Mark 'Christian Coalition' Neumann."
Alternatives on the Rise
While the election typically is posed as a choice between Democrats and
Republicans, Richard Winger of Ballot Access News notes that 89 percent
of voters in the United States will receive a ballot containing a minor
party or independent candidate for office. That is the highest level of
alternative candidates since 1934, when 95.5 percent of voters had a choice
other than D or R.
The 11 percent of voters who have no options other than D/R live in Alabama
(except for two legislative districts), Florida (except for one congressional
district), Maryland (except for one legislative district), six Virginia
congressional districts and about half of Washington. Maryland and Virginia
eased their ballot access laws this past year, but the changes don't take
effect until 1999. A proposition to make ballot access easier in Florida
is on the November ballot. If it passes, Alabama will have the most restrictive
ballot access laws in the nation.
The Libertarian Party is the most widely spread alternative party, before
73 percent of voters in all but seven states, D.C. Reform is before 59 percent
of voters, but it failed to nominate candidates in many of the states in
which it is qualified. U.S. Taxpayers is before 34 percent of voters, Natural
Law is before 31 percent. Green is before 29 percent; Socialist Workers
is before 12 percent; and Workers World, 10 percent. In single digits are
New Party, 9 percent (New York, Minnesota and part of Oregon); Prohibition,
2 percent (Colorado and parts of Massachusetts and Utah); Socialist, 1 percent
(Oregon); and Freedom Socialist, 0.4 percent (part of California, Washington,
Oregon and New York).
The Working Families Party--a coalition of groups including the New Party,
Citizen Action, ACORN, and major unions like the United Auto Workers and
Communications Workers of America--is hoping to qualify as a permanent minor
party with the nomination of City Council Speaker Peter Vallone as. Vallone
is also the Democratic nominee, but if the Working Families Party gains
50,000 votes for Vallone it wins a ballot line for the next four years.
The Green Party is fielding candidates for governor in Alaska, California,
Maine, Minnesota, New York and Oregon. The best-known candidate is octogenarian
"Grandpa" Al Lewis, formerly of The Munsters TV show, in
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