At the Capital Research Center labor conference where Grover Norquist announced Arlen Specter was switching sides on card check, there was a spirited exchange among Employee Free Choice Act opponents on how to deal with the issue. Former Congressman Ernest Istook of Oklahoma spoke on behalf of the Save Our Secret Ballot initiative, which takes a state-by-state approach to card check patterned after the successful ballot initiatives against same-sex marriage.
Greg Mourad, the legislative director of the National Right to Work Committee, gave an impassioned argument against this approach. Politically, he said it took pressure off of Democrats in states where unions are not popular — like Mark Warner in Virginia, for example — to vote against the Employee Free Choice Act in the Senate. It also diverts resources from the Senate fight for something that legally will do very little to prevent card check. Mourad said that the courts would hold that EFCA preempted the state ballot initiatives.
Istook countered that few politicians would be so brazen as to take one position on a state ballot initiative and then vote the opposite way at the national level. He also argued that it would prevent card check for state public employees’ unions. Another speaker said that the point of such initiatives was to get politicians on the record on card check before they run for federal office.
My own view is that National Right to Work is right about the legal matter and Istook is generally right about the politics. Keeping same-sex marriage as the imperfect analogy, you can find politicians who have taken one position on state ballot initiatives and another on national legislation on the issue — John Kerry and John McCain, for example. But overall, the success of marriage initiatives has made politicians reluctant to support same-sex marriage. It’s the main reason why Democratic presidential candidates like Barack Obama remain even nominally opposed to redefining marriage. Sure, it hasn’t helped the Federal Marriage Amendment. But I have no doubt a bill legalizing same-sex marriage would fail even in a Democratic-controlled Congress and the marriage initiatives are part of the reason.
Then again, that doesn’t necessarily mean the state campaigns are the best use of resources during the national debate over EFCA, which is focused on the Senate right now. Given the current composition of that chamber, one vote there is worth more than any number of state ballot initiatives.
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