The Lesson of June 2010: Corporate Power Can Be Beaten

In looking at the disparate results of the June 2010 election, there are two themes that stand out to me:

1. Republicans will do what they are told by their corporate masters. Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina won their primaries because they spent an enormous amount of money to tell Republicans that they should vote for CEOs because they’re smarter than everyone else and more likely to beat the Democrat this fall. That’s it.

Joe Mathews has a good take on Whitman’s victory, but it really does come down to her money. Same for Fiorina. Both dominated the messaging and TV airwaves with their ads, and did so early and often.

But it’s not only the money – it’s who they are. The Republican Party is the party of big corporations, with a voter base that believes big business can do no wrong. Look at the maps: Props 16 and 17 did very well in the Republican-friendly counties of Southern California. Prop 16 went down in the Central Valley partly because of voter anger at PG&E over the smart meters, but in SoCal where PG&E is unknown, Republicans said “sure, let’s give corporations whatever they ask.”

2. Corporations can be beaten. For the rest of California, however, unlimited corporate power is not seen as a positive thing. Letting them dominate and distort our elections with their money is rightly seen as a huge problem, whereas to Republicans it’s business as usual.

The defeat of both Propositions 16 and 17 is a major victory for progressives whose importance cannot possibly be underestimated. PG&E spent $40 million to pass it. The opposition? They spent $100,000. But with groups like the Courage Campaign (where I work as Public Policy Director) pitching in to help educate and organize voters, we were able to mobilize progressive activists to get the word out about this bad proposition, turn out to the polls, and make sure Prop 16 went down. Prop 17’s story was very similar, with opponents being outspent 10 to 1.

We weren’t able to beat Prop 14 or pass Prop 15. The voters really do want major political change, and don’t yet understand the benefits of public funding. But Prop 15 did much better than Prop 89, which suggests victory for clean money is near.

As we go into the fall campaign season, the arc of this election is now clear: it is a battle between corporate wealth and populist democracy. Our victory in Prop 16 and Prop 17 show how we can win that battle. Time to build and organize to win again in November.

10 thoughts on “The Lesson of June 2010: Corporate Power Can Be Beaten”

  1. First congrats on the partial success last night and your part in it especially with a non-existent budget. Its always satisfying to watch the opponents dump a ton of money into a campaign and then lose the election. 🙂

    I think that publicly you should celebrate the failures of Prop 16 and 17 as victories – (set the right narrative !)

    However, internally don’t confuse “lack of defeat” as a victory. Each election is very different. The same props next year might easily pass in a landslide.

    For many years, progressives have settled for small victories or confused fighting to a draw as a victory. The defeat of Props 15, 16, 17 preserved the status quo.

    A victory with Prop 15 would have been a true victory because it would have advanced the progressive agenda. The Prop 16/17 defeats preserves earlier victories. Significant, important, confidence-building – yes. But still draws. Mercury and PG&E will be back.

    Progressives really need to understand the need for a “permanent noise machine” of our own. We need to be laying the groundwork continuously and constantly. We need the Mercury’s and PG&E’s of the world to believe that going to the ballot box is a losing proposition.

    Progressives need to work on redefining the “Conventional Wisdom” so that our opponents believe that they will lose if they try.

    The election is over but we need to keep on talking about the attempted Corporate takeover – in the same way the NRA keeps talking about government taking away everyone’s guns. Every week I urge you to write a piece about a Corporation attempting to control and take over government.

    The “reaganites” have controlled the CW for the last 30 years – progressives need to own the CW for the next 300.

    The defeats of Prop 16/17 help – I hope to see blog posts about how we can use the defeats of Prop 16/17 to cement that Californians don’t like Big Corps telling them how to vote. Remind them of why the initiative process was created, to fight the power of the railroad companies, Big Corps.

    Congrats again on your work.

  2. an initiative to spend $6 million on election ads in a year where the budget is being cut so fiercely is a very hard sell.

  3. With an initiative (if necessary) to require that any initiative or referendum that imposes a supermajority vote on actions must be passed by that same supermajority in order to become effective?

  4. And I’m glad to see this today with 16 & 17 defeated. Even with Prop 15, it did better than Prop 89 (as you noted), so there’s a chance you’ll eventually get “clean money” once that campaign is better organized.

    As we go into the fall campaign season, the arc of this election is now clear: it is a battle between corporate wealth and populist democracy.

    And this is certainly true, but it will need to be explained to voters. The teabaggers have gotten away with calling themselves “grassroots”, even though they’re fully owned campaign arms of the corporate powers that be. Hell, they just bought themselves the Nevada Republican Senate nominee while claiming it was all the work of “grassroots tea party activists”! So in the coming weeks and months, we’ll need to keep working to expose “Tea Party, Inc.” for what it really is and explain who the real “populist democrats” are.

  5. Unless I read this site or received emails from COurage Campaign (who I don’t always agree with), I never would have known what a bad idea Prop 16 was. Most of the Yes on 16 ads sounded like it was a great thing, giving voters a choice.  So I think a lot of the SOCal voters thought , sounds good and anyway I don’t have PSE&G so ….

    I know some friends though when they saw that ridiculous 2/3 rule,voted NO.  Anything that takes 2/3 to pass just doesn’t sound right.    

  6. Prop. 14 has attracted the attention of the folks at fivethirtyeight

    In a possible glimpse of California’s political future in a “jungle primary” system, the non-partisan primary for state Superintendent of Public Instruction featured a twelve-candidate free-for-all in which the two candidates with most polarized views, retired school superintendent Larry Aceves and Democratic legislator Tom Torlakson, will apparently meet in a runoff (Torlakson barely edged another Democratic legislator, Gloria Romero, and there’s a chance provisional ballots and late-counted mail ballots could change the results). Aceves has called for legislation allowing his office to override collective bargaining agreements with teachers’ unions, while Torlakson is a down-the-line supporter of teachers’ unions. This could get interesting in the general election.

    So maybe Prop 14 won’t be the big change that people fear (or hope) it will be.  Of course Superintendent is a state-wide race, rather than one confined to a district, but maybe Prop 14 will encourage more people to run?  Just a thought.

  7. I have to agree with PD. I worked on the Yes on Prop 15 campaign and it was a difficult proposition to explain in a few short sentences when I was leafletting or tabling. One of the reasons it came across as “eggheadish” is that it was supposed to have bipartisan appeal so polarizing language was frowned upon. I suppose it was meant to appeal to reason rather than emotion but in my experience, emotion trumps reason 99% of the time.  

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