Before we get to the hapless Virginia Governor and nominal Democrat Ralph Northam, we’ll begin with a very simple question: can you imagine a reality Republicans wouldn’t pass legislation giving them a two percent electoral turnout edge? Because that’s what VA Gov. Northam is doing:
Gov. Ralph Northam made clear to his revenue advisory council on Monday that he does not support repeal of Virginia’s right-to-work law that forbids compulsory union membership.
With Democrats preparing to take complete control of the General Assembly for the first time in more than 25 years, Northam sought to reassure Virginia business leaders that the state won’t take a sharp leftward turn on an issue that has long been a political fire alarm in a pro-business state.
“I can’t foresee Virginia taking actions [that would include] repeal of the right-to-work law,” he told the Governor’s Advisory Council on Revenue Estimates.
Virginia’s right-to-work law says participation in a union may not be a condition for employment in the state. In 2016, Virginia voters rejected a proposal to put provisions of the law in the state constitution.
The socialist who massively defeated one of the most powerful Republicans in VA in 2016 is on the case:
Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, said on Twitter that he will again introduce legislation to repeal the right-to-work law, despite Northam’s assertion. This year, the GOP majority in the House left his bill in the Commerce and Labor Committee.
“Opposition doesn’t stop me from putting in good bills. And repealing RTW is a good bill,” Carter said in his Twitter post. “I’m gonna introduce it, and I’m gonna fight like hell to get it to the Governor’s desk. And if he vetoes it, he’ll be the one who has to own that.”
Here’s why I say Northam is giving away votes (boldface mine):
Labor unions directly affect wages, employment, industrial structure, and inequality. But unions also influence the economy and labor market indirectly through their effects on politics, providing candidates with voters, volunteers, and contributions, and lobbying on public policy. We use the enactment of right-to-work laws—which weaken unions by removing agency shop protections—to estimate the effect of unions on politics and policy from 1980-2016. Comparing counties on either side of a state and right-to-work border to causally identify the effects of the state laws, we find that right-to-work laws reduce Democratic Presidential vote shares by 3.5 percentage points. We find similar effects in Senate, House, and Gubernatorial races, as well as on state legislative control. Turnout is also 2 percentage points lower in right-to-work counties after passage. Exploring the mechanisms, we find that right-to-work laws dampen organized labor contributions to Democrats and that potential Democratic voters are less likely to be contacted to vote. The weakening of unions also has large downstream effects: fewer working-class candidates serve in state legislatures and Congress, while state policy moves in a more conservative direction.
Put simply, unions turn the vaunted White Working Class voters into Democrats–and they also increase the turnout of already-loyal Democrats. Yet Northam is refusing to make it easier for unions to organize, even as they overwhelmingly helped him (might want to withhold support next time…). While I’m usually of the school of attributing apparent malice to stupidity, in this case, I do think he’s trying to please his corporate donors, using the old Virginian Democratic formula: the Democrat is a pro-choice, not-overwhelmingly racist Republican. In the era of Trump, that just might be good enough, but Democrats need to build for the future. And that future needs to involve unions–assuming Democrats want to win elections.