By Jedson Boyle
Over a century ago, the railroad was virtually the only way that Americans would travel from city to city. In fact, in 1916, 98 percent of intercity travel was done by train. However, around that same time, Henry Ford began production of the first automobile that the average American could buy. Fast forward to 1970, the year of Amtrak's creation, and the railroad industry was broadly displaced by a system of highways and widespread ownership of cars, meaning most Americans seldom traveled by rail.
In order to rescue passenger rail services from near collapse, Congress passed the Congressional Rail Passenger Service Act, unifying twenty of the railroad companies in the United States into the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, typically known as Amtrak. Amtrak was still a for-profit organization, but it was to be owned and controlled by the U.S. government. Despite its nationwide presence, Amtrak has not drawn a profit in any year since its creation, and this year the (relatively) new CEO Richard Anderson, is trying to put a stop to that streak. Although the initial goal of Amtrak was to connect all of America by railroad, Anderson posits that it might be better if the federal government cut down on certain routes. After all, Amtrak services a variety of routes that differ in distance, demand, and profitability.
The first category of Amtrak routes are those that run short paths along the East Coast, the most famous being the Acela Express (the line that runs from Boston, to New York, to D.C.). There are 26 of these routes and they carry 25.8 million passengers per year, comprising approximately 80 percent of Amtrak’s ridership. These are the lines that Amtrak generates a profit from, most likely because they are less time-exhaustive alternatives to flying between East Coast travel hubs. For instance, a train ride from New Jersey to D.C. may require less time than a flight from Newark to Dulles.
The other type of passenger rail service that Amtrak offers is long-distance routes, which are the routes that connect one part of the country to the other instead of just major cities in the same geographical regions. An example of this would be the Southwest Chief line connecting Chicago to Los Angeles or the Silver Star which connects New York to Miami. It is these routes that cost Amtrak money and prevent them from reaching a point of profitability. Even though most riders on long distance routes do not travel the whole route, these trains often go through less populated areas with lower ridership. In fact, ridership was down 4 percent on long-distance routes in 2018 alone.
Another major problem with these long-distance routes is that the trains on those routes tend to be late, only making it to the destination on schedule around 43 percent of the time. Most of the 21,400 miles of track utilized by Amtrak are owned by freight companies. Only 3 percent of the track is owned by Amtrak itself. Although federal law states that Amtrak trains have priority over freight, freight railroads often disobey this regulation. Freight companies are incentivized to flout this federal policy because the DOJ has only brought one enforcement action against a freight company throughout Amtrak’s history. Resultantly, the long-distance routes’ reputation for lateness has driven away potential riders, because delays don’t make an already long and grueling trip any more enticing.
It is not surprising that it is the long-distance routes that Anderson wants to cut, or even completely eliminate. Anderson has made it clear that he regards these routes as only appealing to “hobbyists” and “experience seekers,” groups that do not make up a large share of the population. Anderson reasons that, the distances between major cities outside the Northeast Corridor are so vast, no one will ride from endpoint to endpoint. Therefore, he believes, it wouldn’t make sense to invest in routes that don’t draw a profit.
However, not everyone shares this vision. “Not one element of Anderson’s stated rationale stands up to even superficial scrutiny. The easiest place to start is the nonsense about customers of the company’s business segment being mere ‘experience seekers.’” writes President Andrew Selden of the United Rail Passenger Alliance. “Catering to ‘experience seekers’ is a huge, profitable and rapidly growing business. Except apparently at Amtrak.” On the other hand, proponents of Anderson’s vision would argue that, while the tourism industry is large and rather profitable, most families don’t have the time (or the patience) to spend two days on the Empire Builder (a long-distance line that runs from Chicago to Seattle and Portland) to say, Spokane, Washington, as beautiful as the scenery may be.
Now the answer to Amtrak’s profitability problems seems simple, and that is to just cut the long-distance routes. But remember, Amtrak is publicly funded, and to keep funding from Congress, Amtrak has an obligation to consider the demands of congresspeople. Thus, cutting routes from, say, Kansas, might lose the support of Kansas’s Senator Jerry Moran (who happens to be fighting Amtrak over the Southwest Chief). And why should Senator Moran vote to fund Amtrak if Amtrak isn’t doing anything for his state or his voters?
Another wild card is former Vice President Joe Biden, often nicknamed “Amtrak Joe” who may be elected president this year. As a Senator for 36 years, Biden rode the Amtrak to and from Wilmington, Delaware each day on his way to work, and if he is elected president, Amtrak likely can count on receiving plenty of funding but may be subject to new political stipulations.
Just like any corporation or for-profit organization, Amtrak leadership must walk a very fine line. Allow Amtrak to turn a profit for the first time in history, but not anger too many members of Congress. Given the inherent contradiction in these two goals, this task will prove to be quite a challenge. It may no longer be 1916, and the American railroad may never relive its glory days, but if Richard Anderson succeeds, Amtrak could restore America’s status as a railroad capital. Only time will tell if Anderson’s plan truly gets Amtrak back on track.
By Jedson Boyle
On June 23, 2016, 51.9% of the voters in the United Kingdom voted to bring the country’s membership in the European Union to an end. Since its creation, the United Kingdom has had a complicated and often testy relationship with the rest of Europe, as manifested by centuries of wars from the Norman Conquest, through the Hundred Years War, all the way to the world wars. Often, as the UK went through times of war, so did Europe, though removed from the rest of the continent turned out to be a blessing as it was mostly safe from invasion. However, this blessing was a bit of a double-edged sword.
After the death, destruction, and devastation of the Second World War, the countries in Europe wanted to find a new way to keep the peace. There were growing calls for the countries in Europe to come together and to stop fighting. As a result, in 1957, six nations in Europe signed the Treaty of Rome, thus creating the European Economic Community. However, the United Kingdom was not one of the countries that joined. The UK applied three times to join this union. Twice, this application was rejected by President Charles de Gaulle of France, who was worried that British membership would weaken the French position in the EEC.
Finally, on January 1, 1973, the United Kingdom officially joined the European Economic Community. Though British Prime Minister Edward Heath considered this achievement to be his greatest accomplishment. He and the Conservative Party were voted out of office in the 1974 UK General Election. Former Labour PM Harold Wilson returned to office vowing to put the new membership up for referendum. The British voters approved membership in 1975 by approximately a two-to-one margin.
The UK didn’t integrate with the EEC as much as many in Europe had hoped. In 1979 the European Monetary System was created, encouraging countries in the EEC to coordinate their currencies, creating an Exchange Rate Mechanism. This was seen as a step in the creation of a single currency. The UK was the only country not to join this, which was one of the first displays of how the UK, even in the European Union, was still often isolated from it.
More than a decade later, in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the early 1990s seemed to be a promising time for Europe, as it appeared as if further European integration was assured. On February 7, 1992, the Treaty of Maastricht was signed. This lead to the official creation of the European Union. The organization made laws relating to justice and home affairs and adopted a foreign and security policy. A significant part of the European Union was the Single Market which allowed for the free movement of goods and services. This was made possible by a customs union, which eliminated customs barriers between the EU member states. The people of each of the member states were still citizens of their own respective country, but now had EU citizenship as well. Anyone could now move about and live in any European state. They could also vote for the European Parliament and in any local election in the country in which they lived in.
It took a couple of years and a couple of failed referendums for everyone to ratify the treaty, but every single state eventually did. It was very difficult for Conservative Prime Minister John Major to get ratification through the parliament. Even more, the UK did not actually integrate with Europe regarding the social chapter, which dealt with worker’s pay until after the 1997 UK General Election in which the Labour Party, led by Tony Blair, swept to power. The UK later on also refused to adopt the Euro, the single currency.
Many people in Britain wanted out of the EU. However, these people did not really have a lot of actual political power until after the 2010 elections when Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron (alongside a coalition with the centrist Liberal Democrats) took power.
After the 2010 elections the UK Independence Party (UKIP) a right-wing Eurosceptic party led by Nigel Farage, began to rise in the polls. They surged into third place, ahead of the Liberal Democrats. This party was peeling away the right wing of the Conservative Party. So in the leadup to the 2015 elections, in an attempt to garner right wing support, Cameron announced his support for an In/Out referendum on British membership in the European Union. Polls in the weeks and months leading up to the election showed that Labour and Conservative would likely have about the same number of seats, and be far short of the 326 seats needed to form a majority.
However, as Big Ben struck ten on May 7, 2015 and the polls closed, the exit poll was revealed and the result was shocking. The Conservatives, while they would be short of 326, would gain seats and would be even further ahead of Labour. The next day, not only did Cameron return as PM, the Conservatives won 331 seats, 5 more than needed for an overall majority.
Given the narrowness of the new majority, and the weaker-than-expected showing of UKIP, it was clear that David Cameron owed much to the Eurosceptics; if he were to remain politically viable, he would have to follow through on his promise to call the referendum. Eventually, a referendum was called for June 23, 2016.
Cameron himself was opposed to Brexit and most of the British political parties were against it, including Labour and a large portion of the Conservative Party Some Conservatives and all of UKIP supported leaving the EU. The polls in the last weeks and months showed Remain winning by a relatively narrow margin.
The polls closed at 10 PM on June 23 and two hours later the votes came trickling in. Early in the morning, the BBC projected that Leave would win. The political fallout was shocking. A couple hours later, Prime Minister Cameron announced his resignation and Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England was forced to call for calm. The financial markets across the world plummeted that day, as did the pound sterling.
The race for Leader of the Conservative Party wrapped up fairly quickly. Home Secretary Theresa May was voted in on July 11 and she became Prime Minister on July 13. Some people did not want Theresa May to enact Brexit, but she believed that “Brexit means Brexit.”
Brexit, of course was not going to happen right away. May had to trigger Article 50 on March 20, 2017, which would be the start of a two year process for Britain to leave the European Union. However, May would have to negotiate a deal with Europe on the terms on which the UK would leave and the closeness of the UK to Europe would have to be determined. Then, May would have to get this deal through the British Parliament. Unfortunately for her, her party only had a narrow majority in the House of Commons. However, polls showed that if a general election were held that day, she could expand her majority to over 100.
On April 18, May announced she would call a snap general election for June 8, 2017 to ensure “certainty and stability” for the years to come. Polls showed the Conservatives leading Labour by 20 points. However, in the weeks following, the lead narrowed. However, it still seemed likely that she would still expand her majority. Not as much as she initially hoped, but life was supposed to become easier for Theresa May. However, when all the votes were counted, though the Conservatives were the largest party, no party received an overall majority.
After this shocking results, many speculated that Prime Minister May would resign, but the next day, with her husband by her side, she announced she would remain Prime Minister. She cut a confidence-and-supply deal with a conservative Northern Irish Party called the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). This meant that the DUP would allow the Conservatives to govern and support them in budget votes. Formal negotiations began near the end of June.
Negotiations continued throughout the year. Knowing that a parliamentary vote would be tough, May attempted to allow her deal to be enacted without going through Parliament. However, on December 13, the opposition got enough government MP’s to side with them to force Theresa May to have her deal sent through the parliament before being enacted. Two days later, the second phase of negotiations began.
By March, substantial progress in these talks had been made. On March 19, the UK and European negotiators agreed that there would be a transition period after March 29, 2019. The transition period would end December 31, 2020. During this transition period, the United Kingdom would pay into the EU budget and keep access to the EU markets. It would continue to accept the free movement of people into and out of the European Union. However, its part in EU decision making would end.
The negotiators also reached an agreement on the fishing policy. The fishing policy would allow only a British seafood exporters tariff, and in return, the UK would get access to EU fishing markets as long as EU fishing fleets were allowed to continue to fish in UK waters. The status of EU citizens before and after Brexit was also decided. This stage of negotiations was pretty much finished and on July 8, 2018, Prime Minister May presented a general outline of what the United Kingdom’s relationship with the EU would look like after the withdrawal. Many hardline Brexiteers were outraged (hard brexiteers support the cutting off of all ties with EU. Soft Brexiteers support the UK still having some formal ties to the EU. The Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis (both of whom wanted a more distant relationship with the EU) resigned upon the presentation of the plan. The European Commission rejected the plan made by the negotiators. Negotiations continued until November, 2018 when Theresa May presented her EU Withdrawal Agreement and the political declaration (revised) stating what the United Kingdom’s relationship would be with the EU after Brexit.
The draft withdrawal agreement was 585 pages long. There was rather muddled language on whether the United Kingdom would leave the Single Market or the Customs Union. A very contentious issue was the Irish border. The country of Ireland borders Northern Ireland, a constituent country in the United Kingdom. Ireland is in the European Union, and part of the European Union includes free movement of people. Ireland and the UK have had a contentious relationship since Ireland gained independence from the UK. Relations did improve in 1998, when both sides signed the Good Friday Agreement, therefore ending hostilities. One of the things that had led to stability along the Irish border was the open border. If there was to be a hard border between the UK and Ireland, violence could break out and relations between the two countries would sour once again. Therefore, in the withdrawal agreement, it was agreed that during the current transition period (ending December 31, 2020) a free trade deal would be worked out between the EU and the UK. If there is no agreement six months before the specified date, the transition period could be jointly extended between the EU and the United Kingdom for a period yet to be determined. If this does not occur there would be a hard border.
The Irish border is only a part of this backstop. The backstop has “a single customs territory between the Union and the United Kingdom.”, which would begin at the end of the transition period. There would be certain “non-customs checks” on goods traveling between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. When the transition period comes to an end, the final agreement will be managed by a joint committee that would make unchangeable decisions based on what both parties agree to. A joint panel would be created to manage any disputes between the two countries.
Prime Minister May announced that the Parliament would hold a “meaningful vote” on the Brexit Deal in mid-December, but she postponed the vote to January 15 after it became clear she did not have enough time to get the support she needed. When it did occur, her deal was defeated. It was the largest commons defeat for a government in UK history, with the final count coming out to 202-432. Not completely defeated, however, she tried again to have her deal voted on. The second vote was held on March 12. This time, it failed by a slightly narrower margin. The next day the parliament voted to reject and “no-deal Brexit” in which the UK would leave the EU without any deal.
Most people oppose a “no-deal Brexit” for good reason. If this scenario were to occur, it would cause enough chaos; in fact, the UK has already deployed 3,500 troops in case this catastrophe were to occur. Currently, goods move between the UK and the EU with no checkpoints, allowing trade to be very quick across the English Channel. In the event of no deal, the UK would leave the Single Market and the Customs Union immediately. Customs checks would be deployed immediately and trade would ground almost to a halt. In addition, flights would be grounded, and travel to Europe would be practically impossible. Worst of all, there would be food shortages due to trade becoming much more difficult. This could be an event that impacts the UK for a long time and never recovers from.
Consequently, some people are calling for a second referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU. The European Commission indicated that it would extend the period if a second referendum is to happen. Polls show that much of the UK public would vote to undo Brexit and remain in the EU. However, after this long and dreadful dispute, it is likely that relations between the UK and Europe would be strained for the years to come, and on March 14, 2019, the UK Parliament rejected a second referendum.
On March 29, the UK Parliament held a third vote. Prime Minister May promised that she would step down if her deal got through. Even so, though the margin was much narrower this time, it still failed. The week before, on March 22, the parliament had voted to extend the deadline to April 12 and on April 10, the British Parliament voted to extend it to October 31.
So far, no substantial progress has been made. On May 23, elections to the European Parliament were held and Nigel Farage’s newly-formed Brexit Party won the most seats in the UK’s share of seats. However, many pro-EU citizens breathed a sigh of relief because more voters cast ballots for pro-European parties that Eurosceptic parties. Across Europe, many were relieved that the wave of far-right Eurosceptics that was expected to sweep into Brussels did not materialize. However, on May 24, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she would resign her post effective on June 7. Her resignation as Conservative Party leader took effect on June 7 as a leadership election began. On July 23, Boris Johnson was announced as the winner of the leadership election, defeating Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. He moved into Downing Street the following day.
Boris Johnson has said that if he has to take the UK out of the European Union without a deal, he will do it. However, in the last days before October 31, Boris Johnson was forced to extend the deadline to January 31. A few days, Boris Johnson called yet another snap election.
It appears as if the entire Brexit situation has come to a complete stalemate. If Boris Johnson and his Conservatives win the election on December 12, he will still be in a difficult situation, especially if he fails to get a majority. There are many different factions within the parliament, many of which transcend party lines. Some support Brexit no matter the consequences. Some want Brexit but would prefer that the UK and the EU reach a deal. Some oppose Brexit completely and want a second referendum. The problem is, no side seems to command a majority in the parliament and each side is waiting to see which side blinks first. Whether the Conservatives or Labour get a majority, it may not be enough if the parties themselves are divided.
The only way, something may get done, is if the Liberal Democrats, the most pro-EU party in the United Kingdom, win the elections. They would likely call a second referendum and, based on the fact that most UK voters currently prefer to stay in the EU, the UK would remain. Of course the polls were wrong the first time, but overall the polls were closer than they are now. However, the problem for the Liberal Democrats is that they are currently polling in a relatively close third. Overall, Labour, the party currently polling second, is slightly more pro-EU than the Conservatives, but many working class Labour voters (especially in the northern part of England) backed Leave in the Brexit referendum. This uncertainty brings many uncertainties regarding the upcoming election. Is it possible that more educated Labour votes in and around London that backed Remain will ditch Labour and vote Liberal Democrat? Is it possible that the 29% of Conservatives that voted Remain will ditch Johnson and vote Liberal Democrat? Or will Labour and the Liberal Democrats continue to poll close enough to each other so that the anti-Johnson vote is split and the Conservatives secure a plurality, maybe even a majority of seats? Now that the Brexit Party is withdrawing its candidates in constituencies held by the Conservatives, the pro-Brexit votes will no longer be split, thus making it even easier for Johnson to win.
Whatever happens, it is clear that the UK political system will never be the same. Even if the UK decides that it wants back in on the EU, the relationship between the two entities is likely to be damaged for decades to come. The relationship has never been easy, and this recent upheaval will complicate it, as well as the entire European scene even more. Due to the rise of populist Eurosceptic parties throughout Europe, many are doubting whether the EU would even survive a successful Brexit. Opposing this trend, however, are the election results across Europe in recent months which suggest that this tide may be slowing. In Austria, the populist Freedom Party suffered their worst defeat in over a decade. In Finland, the populist Finns failed to win the elections there. And last Sunday, the liberal pro-EU Romanian President won a 30-point landslide reelection victory. Anti-EU populist parties have also taken hits in polls recently. For example, the far-right AFD in Germany has dropped to fourth place as opposed to about 15 months ago when it was polling in second. Perhaps the people of Europe are seeing what it is like to travel down a road of uncertainty and thinking about choosing a different path.
There really is no way to predict the outcome of Brexit. In fact, we cannot even begin to predict the outcome until after the elections on December 12. No matter where the polls stand now, they could be radically different as the election date approaches. And so could the future of Brexit.
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.