Dark horses stalk straight-ticket voters

“The people have spoken. The bastards.” — Mo Udall

Congratulations/Commiserations, Bexar Countiers! The Guv you love to hate is settling in for another season of taxpayer-funded foreign travel, luxury living, and experiments in privatization. (He’s even got a book to sell you, hot off the victory press.) If we’re lucky, we’ll see more governmental land-grabbing on behalf of foreign investors (Trans-Texas Corridor II, anyone?). Despite siding marginally with one-time resident and constant campaign presence Bill White for the top spot (148,212 to 146,541), you cast your lot for more of the same from Repub triumvirate Gov Lite Dewhurst, AG Abbott, and Comptroller Combs (at 54-, 59-, and 79-percent, respectively), meaning a continuation of the state’s pro-business, anti-human “leadership.” In his acceptance speech, Perry railed against the “do-gooder policies that have nothing to do with science or economics” that he blamed for attempting to drain Texas’ independent spirit. Of course, he’s talking about EPA attempts to squeeze the brakes on runaway greenhouse emissions and toxic belching from our aging refineries. We’re guessing the crowd gathered in downtown’s Central Library on Monday night to criticize the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality were not among Perry’s supporters this round (See “QueQue, Page 10).

Our pro-business climate, however, hasn’t trickled down to matters that matter to folks like us: healthcare, education, homelessness, that sort of thing. Sort of goes hand in glove with our history of having one of the lowest voter-turnouts among the states. Many are already suggesting the Republican sweep of the U.S. House of Representatives may mean immigration reform (wait. walls aren’t reform?!) or any domestic or international deal on climate legislation are now dead. Of the 300,000 (roughly 1 in 3 of all registered voters in Bexar) that showed up on Tuesday, half were straight-ticket voters (believing that either every Democrat or every Republican worthy of your unquestioning support). By our reasoning, that knocks the number of actual ballot participants down to only about 150,000. Our one-button pushers were synched with the national mood that swept Republicans into control of the U.S. House and solidified their hold on the Texas House. But it’s not quite the tsunami it’s been presented as. Stephen Amberg, political sciences professor at UTSA, termed it more of a “backwash of a cabin cruiser.” Exit polling shows voters still blame bankers for the economy more than President Obama, and are widely divided on the specifics of healthcare and immigration reform.

“From the voters point of view, you have two choices,” Amberg said. “If you want to punish the people who are in power, there’s only one exit: it’s the other guys.”

And so, while the Republicans do have the opportunity to convince the nation that the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest, a return to a Clinton/Bush-era deregulated banking environment, and smaller government somehow equals a strong, reliable job base? Outlook: unlikely.

But are we looking at years of “ping-ponging” between the parties, or is there an alternative exit ramp opening up?
Under the two-party, winner-take-all system, it’s still unlikely. And yet, funded mainly by donated tamales and a handful of signage, Kat Swift managed a full 20 percent of Bexar County Commissioner Paul Elizondo’s long-held seat. But to reach the 50-plus-one needed? “That’s just way too steep a hill for a small party to climb, unless all bets are off and there’s a revolutionary situation,” offered Amberg.

But breaking free of the two-party system has potential. It was such disgust that gave birth to the Libertarian-launched but Republican dominated Tea Party. Trinity poli-sci professor David Crockett isn’t holding his breath for the TP Party to establish itself as that illusive third party. Calling it a “hodgepodge” of interests and organizations, Crockett said: “It’s not clear to me that movement would become a nationwide third-party movement that would really be integrated and coordinated and have an impact.” To get there, they’d have to make a hard break with the Republicans and all the revenue they represent.

And yet, there is this lingering interest in the creation of multiple-member districts, offering more voter choice on the ballot and apportioning representation in direct proportion to the vote. Another dark horse on the horizon. But hold on for revolutionary fervor. The sort that may fill Green Party sails. As the ping of political promises hits the pong of reality, voters are likely to lurch again. This time back to the left and the historic worker-protections they’ve offered.

“It’s probably not the Republican Party that’s going to protect people’s old-age pensions, or Medicare, their unions, their wages,” said Amberg. “So, on the left there might be some organizing space.”

Seems like the time to take advantage of that would be now.

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