Now that Democrat Kendall Van Dyk has bested Republican incumbent Roy Brown by four votes in Montana’s spendiest State Senate race ever ($234,000 for 6,208 ballots cast), the Republicans hold the state Senate 28-21 and the House by a whomping 68-32 majority.
So what does this “mandate” call for?
Many observers, including Flathead Democrats, have said our local elections were affected by the national dynamic. This is clearly true, considering there are six more Republican governors now, and nineteen states flipped their legislatures from Democrat to Republican.
There are plenty of similarities between the 2010 election and the prior “wave” in 1994. For starters, I spent most of Election Night 2010 enjoying a good gloat, as I did in 1994.
The preceding 1992 election was seen as a “breakthrough” from a diversity standpoint, “The Year of The Woman,” which included the election of Carolyn Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) as the Senate’s first (and so far only) black woman. 2008 was also a “breakthrough” year, with Barack Obama becoming America’s first black President, following Nancy Pelosi’s 2006 selection as the House’s first woman Speaker.
In both Congresses, Democrats enjoyed firm control of both the Senate and the House. With Republican presidential runs of 12 years (1992) and 8 years (2008) finally over, Democrats saw an opportunity to pass “dream” legislation that would never survive a veto.
The “hope” for “change” was palpable. Plus, by golly, they had a “durable mandate.” All the Beltway experts said so.
In 1994, the big issues that motivated voters were so-called “Hillarycare,” and two major gun-control bills. Hillarycare, of course, never got out of the blocks. The gun stuff squeaked through by only a couple of votes – but boy, that sure motivated me.
In 2010, oblivious to an economy in shambles, Congress barely passed a much-truncated, expensive and unread Obamacare. In a follow-up to fluorescent light bulbs, the House passed global-warming legislation.
So, twice now in my lifetime, national Democrats had it all, and blew their “mandate” in only two years, thanks to what was obviously clueless overreach.
In 1994, and again in 2010, voters gave the “mandate” back to Republicans. But Republicans wasted no time blowing their 1994 opportunity, starting in 1995 when they tried to face down President Clinton by shutting down the government. Then there was the Clinton impeachment fiasco – hadn’t the guy already stewed himself in his own juices?
It has always amazed me how both parties show a special talent for flying off onto ideological tangents. The only difference is, while Republicans dribble their power away slowly, Democrats throw it off the cliff and jump after it. Neither has demonstrated any talent for the hard work of actually governing well.
Because neither party has minded the store – there is one enormous difference between 1994 and 2010, however. 1994 didn’t have 2010’s combination of a tanked economy and a stupendous national debt.
For too long, irrational credit policies allowed individual Americans to ignore their personal bottom line, and ignore politicians who ignored government’s bottom line.
But when oil prices and derivatives combined to end the party, millions got a rude reality check: Debt matters, and has consequences. Wall Street, of course, knew that already, which is why they lobbied for a bailout to avoid the consequences.
Now entire nations, not just Third World cesspools, but First World nations like Greece, Iceland and Ireland, are feeling much fiscal pain. The old game of fobbing burdens off on others – preferably others’ grandchildren – will no longer work, not globally, not nationally, and certainly not in Helena, no matter which party is “in charge.”
As Sen. Max Baucus pointed out to Congressman Denny Rehberg, much (about 43.5 percent) of Montana’s state government budget is supported by “federal” money. The chances for those funds to continue to flow unabated, much less increase, are almost zero.
So, the “mandate” Montana Republicans (and Democrats, too) have is mostly a warning: Make dang sure Montana is in the black at the end of 2012 without making the rest of us see red. If we’re seeing red next time, it might not be “Republican red.”
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