As we head into January and the upcoming state legisla- tive session, keep your program handy. Many of the key players have changed. So has the political landscape — and not for the better.
Virulently anti-public schools and anti-labor officials were elected or re-elected across the country. In New York — where voters value public schools, support educators and believe in fundamental rights for workers — some of NYSUT's friends were swept out with the tide.
"The good news is this," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, who leads NYSUT's political efforts, "the election results had much less to do with our candidates and our issues than they did with dissatisfaction with Washington, D.C., and a general sense of discouragement that unfortunately kept a lot of our voters and supporters away from the polls.
"The better news is this: We're still in this fight, and we're going to win it together!"
Turnout was incredibly low in New York state, where 32.5 percent of active registered voters cast ballots. The state ranked third from the bottom in overall voter turnout among the 50 states, a disturbing statistic considering all statewide offices were up for election. Indiana, which had no U.S. Senate or governor's races, ranked at the bottom and Mississippi followed.
A few bright spots stood out in an otherwise discouraging political climate. Substantial victories by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, not to mention many important victories in the state Assembly, give NYSUT political activists reason for tempered optimism. All told, 90 percent of NYSUT-endorsed candidates prevailed.
"The most upsetting aspect of the results is the defeat of some of the finest and most dedicated legislators our state and country have known," Pallotta said.
NYSUT President Karen E. Magee marveled at the heroic support from members who boosted candidates through contributions to VOTE-COPE, walked the streets, made phone calls and distributed literature to motivate voters.
"We want to thank you all for your tireless efforts," she said. "Our leaders and members went above and beyond the call of duty during this election cycle."
Both houses in the 114th Congress will be controlled by the Republicans with a Democrat in the White House. It's a situation last faced by President Bill Clinton in 1994.
Democrats lost control of the U.S. Senate chamber after Republicans picked up seats in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia.
Democrats also lost ground nationally in the House of Representatives, and New York was not an exception. Nationwide, Democrats lost 14 seats, three of those coming from New York.
NYSUT-endorsed Rep. Chris Gibson, Hudson Valley, won handily with 63 percent of the vote. NYSUT also successfully protected Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney in the Hudson Valley and Rep. Louise Slaughter in Rochester.
Republicans gain state Senate
The state Senate changed from a chamber controlled by a coalition, to one controlled by Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos now has a single seat advantage (32-31).
In the past two years, Democrats held a small majority, but the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, led by Sen. Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, formed a coalition with the minority Republicans to seize control.
Klein, who was re-elected, and Skelos have announced they intend to work together again, but in a different, still to be determined, arrangement.
Democrats continue to have an overwhelming majority in the state Assembly. Speaker Sheldon Silver, always a strong and constructive ally for the union, will continue to be a friend in the Statehouse.
Voters support ballot measures
All three of the ballot propositions passed easily, including the NYSUT-backed Smart Schools Bond Act, which will allow for the bonding of $2 billion to pay for school technology.
Election Day also determined the future of minor party lines.
In New York, if a party's gubernatorial candidate wins 50,000 votes, the party appears on ballots statewide for four years without having to gather signatures or petitions to secure a place on the ballot.
If the 50,000-vote threshold is met, parties are then ranked on the ballot in order of their gubernatorial vote. Candidate Howie Hawkins' success in the gubernatorial vote advances the Green Party to Row D. It's likely the Working Families Party will slip down the ballot. Two new lines — the governor's Women's Equality Party and Republican Rob Astorino's Stop Common Core Party line — also reached the 50,000-vote threshhold.