Thursday, November 09, 2006

My take on the midterm elections

I don't devote a lot of time to politics on this blog; it's really not my favorite subject to discuss and there are other political blogs out there that do a much more thorough job, on both the local and national levels, than I ever could. However, I thought I'd at least say a few things about Tuesday's election.

I am surprised by the results. I expected that the Democrats would take over the House of Representatives, given Bush's unpopularity, frustration over the war in Iraq and the so-called "six-year itch" that historically favors the opposition halfway through a president's second term. But I expected Republican redistricting efforts and the much-ballyhooed Karl Rove "ground game" to limit Democrat gains to twenty seats at the most. Instead, the Democrats have picked up 29 seats, with a handful of races left to be decided. All in all, that's a pretty emphatic mandate for change from American voters. I also thought that Democrat reconquest of the Senate was a "bridge too far," given that the Democrats had to win in "red" states such as Missouri, Tennessee, Montana and Virginia in order to make their dream of recapturing the Senate a reality. However, unless there is a major change in the outcomes of the Virginia and Montana results in the coming weeks, the Democrats have apparently pulled it off and will control both houses of Congress when the new session begins in January. The Democrats picked up all these Republican seats without losing a single seat of their own, which is a rather remarkable political feat.

In the hours since the election, I've heard the argument that the results of this election were more a vote "against" the Republicans more than they were a vote "for" the Democrats. That's certainly possible; a lot of people are going to be spinning Tuesday's results one way or another for a long time to come. The bottom line, however, is that the Bush Administration is going to spend its final two years being forced to work with (or against, as the case might be) a Congress controlled by the opposition. What results that arrangement might have remain to be seen, but the effects have already begun to manifest themselves, as evidenced by the resignation of embattled Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday (who was replaced by Texas A&M University President Robert Gates).

Texas is still a predominantly-Republican state, and the "winds of change" felt elsewhere in the nation amounted to little more than an gentle breeze here. Rick Perry was re-elected to the governor's mansion in spite of the fact that over sixty percent of Texas voters voted against him; all of the other statewide races were won by Republicans as well. I'm not a fan of Governor Helmet-Hair by any means, but the writing was on the wall when all of Chris Bell, Carole Keeton-Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman decided to run against him and, subsequently, divide up the anti-Perry vote such that nobody could win except him.

Of the few local races that were competitive, one of them ended in delicious irony: Democrat Nick Lampson, who was forced out of the House of Representatives after his seat was essentially redistricted out from under his feet, now gets to occupy the seat formerly held by the architect of said redistricting, indicted former Representative Tom DeLay. Lampson won the 22nd Congressional District, 51.8% to 41.7%, over Houston City Councilmember Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, and for the next two years this predominantly-Republican district will be represented by a Democrat.

Having watched and listened to Sekula-Gibbs on City Council over the past several years, I can honestly say that I've never been very impressed with her. Nevertheless, the fact that she got over forty percent of the vote as a write-in candidate (she could not actually be listed as the Republican candidate on the ballot because Tom DeLay resigned from Congress after he had already won his party's primary) is impressive; she ran an effective campaign. Sekula-Gibbs, incidentally, will get to warm Lampson's seat as the 22nd Congressional District's Representative through the holiday season, winning a special election to fill what was left of DeLay's unexpired term. The results of this election represent the only Democratic pickup in the state's House representation (although there will be a runoff in the 23rd Congressional District out west). No other of the local House races were particularly competitive; I was hoping that local debate teacher Jim Henley would fare better than 38.5% of the vote against Republican John Culberson in the 7th Congressional District, but no such luck. Here in the 18th Congressional District, Democrat "Queen Sheila" Jackson-Lee easily and unsurprisingly won re-election with almost 77% of the vote.

The Democrats fared somewhat better in the state House, picking up four or five seats (which is good news for Texas's moribund state Democratic Party but unlikely to result in any major legislative changes). Two such races were heavily contested here in the Houston area. Hubert Vo easily won his rematch against Talmadge Heflin in State Rep District 149, which is another example of a Democratic victory in a suburban "red" district, and Martha Wong was knocked off by Ellen Cohen in State Rep District 134 by a decisive margin. Like Sekula-Gibbs, Wong was once a Houston City Councilmember and, like Sekula-Gibbs, I've never been particularly impressed by her, so I was personally pleased by this result. Here in State Rep District 147, my neighbor (he lives three streets away) Garnet Coleman was unopposed in his bid for re-election.

Kuff crows about Democrat progress at the national, state and local levels here. John explores the predictable sour-grapes whining from assorted right-wingers here. For ongoing political updates and analysis, I recommend Taegan Goddard's Political Wire blog.

Many political pundits are already looking forward to 2008 and wondering what Tuesday's results might portend for the upcoming race to replace Bush in the White House. Personally, I don't really care. A lot can happen in two years (if, in 2004, you'd have told me that the Democrats were going to regain control of both houses of Congress in 2006, I would have called you a liar) and, quite frankly, I've had enough politics for awhile.

On a personal note, I'm glad to have been able to help my visually-impaired brother-in-law navigate through the ponderously long electronic ballot at his precinct at Houston Community College's central campus. He repaid the favor by patiently waiting for me as I voted at my precinct at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, and then hung out with Lori and me at our house to drink a cold beer (or several) and watch the election returns. Beer and democracy: the perfect combination!

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