By Jed Boyle
On November 6 2018, voters went to the polls. Despite the bouts of Americans biting their nails that evening, by midnight, it became clear that voters delivered a stunning rebuke of President Trump. Facing their worst Senate map in history, Democrats limited their losses to just two seats. They picked up seven governorships, seven state legislative chambers, and 40 seats in House of Representatives, thus capturing control of the chamber.
In the days following the midterm elections, however, a number of questions emerged: would Democrats retain Pelosi as their leader and return her to the speakership? Or would moderate Democrats that won promising to oppose Pelosi prevent that from happening? The media attention focused on one type of freshman Congressperson - the progressive. However, they failed to mention a different brand: the moderate.
These moderates would likely be part of an often overlooked group - the Problem Solvers Caucus. The Problem Solvers Caucus is a bipartisan group of congressman chaired by Representatives Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Tom Reed (R-NY). There are about the same number of Republicans as Democrats. Now that the Democrats control the House, the focus will mostly be on the Democratic members.
A central focus of the new majority was who would become the speaker of the house. Nancy Pelosi was Speaker before the Republicans captured the House in 2010. She became a figure of disdain and was often the target of many Republican attack ads. However, her supporters say she is a legislative genius and vital for fundraising efforts. Her critics, on the other hand, say that the 78 year old Congresswoman is taking positions that should belong to younger leadership in an increasingly young and diverse party. As a result, many freshmen pledged not to support her for speaker and won in their districts on that promise. In fact, 50 Democratic candidates in total pledged not to support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker.
After the Democrats retook the house, Nancy Pelosi set to work getting votes for her to be Speaker again. In her path to the speakership, Pelosi had to make promises and compromises to opposition. Many of those who opposed her were members of the Problem Solvers Caucus. To quote an article from the New York Times, “Ms. Pelosi, of California, has traded committee assignments, promises to prioritize lawmakers’ pet issues, rules changes to empower centrists and, ultimately, to relinquish her speakership.” In order to convince the Problem Solvers of her commitment to their goals, Pelosi has bargained by offering committee assignments to Caucus members, rule changes to uplift centrists, and, most notable of all, a promise to relinquish her speakership in 2020. After these abundant negotiations, Pelosi was able to seize just enough votes to become Speaker.
This is a prime example of the influence the Problem Solvers Caucus has had and could have in this new Congress. They may push the Democratic Party further toward the center, away from the progressive direction it appears to be going in right now. Furthermore, they might try to push bipartisan legislation on issues like immigration reform, the Affordable Care Act, the opioid epidemic, and an infrastructure package.
The Problem Solvers have been known to attempt to push legislation to break the gridlock in Washington, but they have faced multiple criticisms. Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin has criticized the group as being merely a fast track for lobbyists. It has also faced criticism as a hack for vulnerable incumbents to win re-election. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), for instance, barely won a tough battle for re-election this year and utilized his membership multiple times in the debates and just about every time he spoke in public.
The Republican members have voted with their party 93% of the time ,and Tom Reed, one of the co-chairs of the committee voted for the Republican-led 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Some on the progressive side claim it is a front for conservatives to push their policies. Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, has said that they have no track record whatsoever, and has termed it a “political cover operation.” Reportedly, even Republican staffers say that the caucus has not gotten anything done.
No matter the underlying purpose, there is no doubt that the Problem Solvers Caucus will have a large impact on this Congress. It is unknown how the caucus will impact the investigations of President Trump that will likely soon begin. However, it is very likely that they will attempt to curtail the power of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. It is also likely that they will sometimes serve as a foil to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the Republican leadership. Tom Reed, as mentioned earlier, a co-chair, voted with the Democrats to end the recent government shutdown. During the middle of the shutdown, members of the Problem Solvers Caucus went to the White House to meet with President Trump. However, it seems as if nothing was accomplished in that meeting. Freshman representative Max Rose (D-NY) said, “The president spent a lot of time with us, the vice president spent a lot of time with us, his team spent a lot of time with us. This is about trust building and opening the government back up. It’s a very slow process.”
Since President Trump never got the border wall he so desired, many speculate that he will close the government again. Some wonder if the Problems Solver’s Caucus will play a role in solving the next potential shutdown. Others question if the Caucus might try to break with the Democrats (like Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia did) and support a shutdown deal with a wall in it. Representative Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) says that if experts say a wall is what is necessary, he would support a deal with funding for the wall. However, many Republicans found themselves in unexpectedly competitive races this year and just want this whole charade to end. So the question is, will the Problem Solvers work to change Washington? Or it it just for politics? Time will tell.
By Jed Boyle
TRUMP. The only thing the media knows what to talk about anymore. This year, however, there are elections for offices that affect the lives of everyday Americans more directly. Why doesn’t the media talk about this? Trump is important, but this is too. Thankfully, here is an overview of (in no order) seven interesting gubernatorial races this year.
Incumbent: Rick Scott (R) Term Limited
Democrat Andrew Gillum vs. Republican Ron DeSantis
Florida, Florida, Florida. It isn’t election night in Florida without a big close race. We’ll see what happens this year, but this is already a very polarizing race. The hard-right Trump-backed U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis scored a major victory over the establishment candidate Adam Putnam in the Republican primary. He has already caused controversy by telling Floridians not to “monkey this thing up” by electing his African-American opponent, Andrew Gillum -- something many people considered a racist dog whistle. Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, would be the first black governor in the state’s history if he wins. In August, the Sanders-backed progressive insurgent instantly became a national figure when he scored an upset victory over the centrist frontrunner Gwen Graham in the primary. Gillum has led in every poll since then, but an FBI investigation that has descended over Tallahassee) could make things interesting. The Mayor has ties to lobbyists that are being investigated by the FBI over corruption. Gillum has not been implicated in any wrongdoing whatsover, but if DeSantis really begins focusing on the corruption, Gillum relatively narrow lead could evaporate. Thankfully for Gillum, DeSantis seems to be running out of time to change the tone of the race less than 3 weeks before Florida votes.
Incumbent: Rick Snyder (R) Term Limited
Democrat Gretchen Whitmer vs. Republican Bill Schuette
Former Michigan House Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer is trying to take the seat from the Republicans. Her opponent is Trump-backed Bill Schuette, the Attorney General of the state. At the center of this election is the Flint Water Crisis, which Rick Snyder and the Republican Party have faced a lot of anger from the people of Michigan over. Many have accused the governor of being extremely, even criminally, slow to react to the problems of the city of Flint. Expert say that Flint’s drinking water still is not clean enough to drink. Whitmer has also run a strong campaign, talking about the Flint Water Crisis and attacking Bill Schuette for not prosecuting the members of the Snyder Administration. She pledges to clean up drinking water by replacing lead service pipes, making sure the Great Lakes are clean, enter Michigan into the U.S. climate alliance, and to rely on science. Whitmer has led in every poll this year, mostly by double digits. Schuette has tied himself to Trump, who, despite narrowly carrying the state in 2016, has found his approval rating in the 30s. Many Republican are bucking him to endorse Whiter. Schuette has held a number of positions in Michigan since he was first elected a U.S. Representative in 1985, is seen as someone whose days in politics are largely over. Schuette is running out of time to close the gap, and besides Illinois (see below) may be the best opportunity for a Democratic pickup this year.
Incumbent: Jeff Colyer (R) Ran for election, defeated in primary
Democrat Laura Kelly vs Republican Kris Kobach
Sam Brownback, a Republican, was the incumbent until he resigned last January. Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer took his seat and was already running for the election. Shockingly, in the Republican Primary, Kansas Secretary of State and national figure Kris Kobach upset him in the primary by just over 100 votes. Kansas is a deep red state that voted for Trump by over 20 points. However, polls show Kobach ahead within the margin of error. Kobach has alienated many moderate republicans with his policy positions. He is known for being outspoken on hot button issues on immigration. He was the vice chair of a Trump-formed “voter fraud” comission that faced a number of lawsuits for allegedly atttempting to take minority voters off the voting rolls and was disbanded in January Also, an independent 2014 Senate candidate named Greg Orman is getting a substantial portion of the vote. He is running as a moderate, attempting to attract Republicans opposing Kobach, and Democrats worry he will attract potential Democatic voters. However, two former Republican Governors are endorsing Kelly, and independents tend to drop in the polls the closer to election day it gets. If Laura Kelly wins, she would be the third woman elected governor in Kansas.
Incumbent: Bruce Rauner (R) Running
Democrat JB Pritzker vs Republican Bruce Rauner
In 2014, businessman Bruce Rauner shocked the politics of deep blue Illinois by ousting incumbent embattled Democratic Governor Pat Quinn. Instead of appearing bipartisan, however, Rauner has managed to alienate liberals, moderates, and conservatives. He is pro-choice and is in favor of gay rights, causing a Republican State Senator to form the Illinois Conservative Party and challenge Rauner. Both houses of the Illinois Legislature are held by the Democratic Party, and Illinois State House Speaker Mike Madigan is not known for cooperating with Rauner. Relations between Rauner and the State House are so bad, that from July 1 2015 to August 31 2017, Illinois had NO STATE BUDGET WHATSOEVER. The budget impasse That level of mismanagement has left the blame falling on Governor Rauner. Businessman JB Pritzker is the Democratic nominee. Both in 2014 and this year, Rauner has dumped millions of his vast personal fortune into his campaign. However, Pritzker is rich and is dumping his money into this race too. Rauner’s approval ratings are so dismal that he only won renomination by 3 points over a little-known challenger. He is down over 20 points in many polls, and Illinois is the best opportunity for a Democratic pickup.
Incumbent: Nathan Deal (R) Term Limited
Democrat Stacey Abrams vs Republican Brian Kemp
This race, much like Florida’s, is very polarizing. Stacey Abrams was the minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives. If elected, she would be the first black female governor of any state. Secretary of State Brian Kemp is a Trump-backed hard right Republican who, oddly enough, had something called a “deportation bus” for rounding up illegal immigrants, and beat Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle by almost 40 points in the primary after being endorsed by Trump. For years, Democrats have tried to win statewide election by nominating moderate candidates who try to appeal to the coalition that elected Bill Clinton in 1992. However, Georgia has a rapidly expanding black population, a demographic that tends to often vote over 90% Democratic. Abrams believes the right approach is to energize them and other progressives throughout the state. Her policies are indeed very progressive in every category. Kemp is the exact opposite, far-right in every category. In mid-October, it came out that for the past eight years, Kemp (being the state’s chief election officer) removed hundreds of thousands of voters from the voter rolls, often in Democratic areas. The amount of voters removed total is likely greater than the margin of victory for the Republican candidate in the 2014 Georgia Gubernatorial Elections. The race is basically tied two weeks out. There’s also another complication - if no candidate gets 50% of the vote, it goes to a runoff in December.
Incumbent: Scott Walker (R) Running
Democrat Tony Evers vs Republican Scott Walker
Wisconsin has historically been a very progressive state that was a mostly Democratic bastion. However, in the Tea Party Wave of 2010, conservative Republican Scott Walker was elected and almost immediately began implementing very conservative policies. He survived a recall election in 2012 and was reelected in 2014. He was, for a time, a Republican frontrunner in 2016 before being overtaken by Donald Trump. Walker is popular among conservatives, but his overall approval rating is dismal. His Democartic opponent Tony Evers has a had a small but comfortable lead for most of the race. 2010 and 2014 were Republican years and Walker has had the benefit of large spending on behalf of his donors. This year, the Democratic base is energized and ready to take out Walker. The other major race is a senate race, where the Democrat is leading by double digits. That could help turnout Democratic voters as well. The state economy overall has done well and jobs have been created, but as usual, these gains have drastically benefited the wealthy and the jobs do not pay as well as the workers would like them too. Walker has curbed the power of unions in the state, and while that has boosted his profile among conservatives, many people say that he is due for a reckoning. Tony Evers is the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Wisconsin. Democrats have had good signs already, they’ve won back 2 state Senate seats in special elections and 1 state Supreme Court seat. This will be one of the most interesting races of the year.
Incumbent: Bill Walker (I) Running
Independent Bill Walker vs Republican Mike Dunleavy vs Democrat Mark Begich
2014 was a three-way race until Independent candidate Bill Walker formed a unity ticket with the Democrats and ousted the incumbent Republican governor. For a while, it looked like Walker would win a second term over Mike Dunleavy, the former state senator. However, former U.S. Senator Mark Begich jumped into the race right before the filing deadline. It became a three way race as Walker had been preparing to run as a Democrat in the primary. The Republican looked assured for victory. Walker’s hopes for reelection were complicated when his Lieutanent Governor Byron Mallot dropped out as allegations of unspecified inappropriate comments came out. Three days later, Walker dropped out of the race. Now Begich, due to attacks by Walker damaging him, is behind the Republican in the polls. However, the deficit is within the margin of error, and Walker has now endorsed Begich, which will give him a boost. The race is tight and the winner of the election is anyone’s guess.