Gizzi on Politics Nov. 9, 2009

Election Night

The political news last Tuesday was dominated by the results in the races for governor in Virginia and New Jersey and the nationally watched special House election in New York’s 23rd District. There were other races and other returns of great importance to conservatives.

California: The Other House Race

With all the media focused on the New York 23rd House race won by Democrat Bill Owens over Conservative Doug Hoffman, it was sometimes difficult to remember there was another special election for the House held last week. California’s 10th District had a contest for the seat vacated by Democratic Rep. (1992-2009) Lynn Tauscher who earlier this year took a high State Department post.

To no one’s surprise, in a district with 62% Democratic registration, the winner was Democratic Lt. Gov. John Garamendi. He won with just over 61% of the vote, defeating stalwart conservative Republican David Harmer. The liberal Garamendi, who does not live in the district, topped a crowded field of opponents in the primary.

Connecticut: A Trend in the Cities

With one eye already focused on taking out embattled Sen. Christopher Dodd (D.-Conn.) next year, Nutmeg State Republicans got an early boost in local elections. The GOP retained city halls in Middletown, New Britain, Danbury and Norwalk — all towns that have until recently been historically Democratic. New Britain’s Tom Stewart became the first Republican mayor in Hardware City history to win four terms.

In what was perhaps the most closely watched contest in the state, Republican Mike Pavia won the open mayoralty in Stamford with 55% of the vote. In taking over City Hall in the state’s fourth-largest city, businessman Pavia succeeds Democratic Mayor Dan Malloy, who is stepping down to run for governor next year.

Michigan: Dems Take Bath After Schauer

In the only special election for the state senate in Michigan last Tuesday, Republicans picked up the 19th District seat (Battle Creek) that Democrat Mark Schauer had relinquished a year ago when he was elected to Congress. Conservative Republican Mike Nofs, a former state legislator and onetime state trooper, rolled up nearly 60% of the vote against Democratic State Rep. Mickey Griffin of Jackson.  

Nofs’ win gives Republicans a 22-to-16 seat edge in the state senate, and early encouragement in the race for governor in 2010. With Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm termed out, a recent Rasmussen Poll showed three of the five Republican candidates for governor leading the likely Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. John Cherry.

New Jersey: Dems Keep Legislature

Although Republican Chris Christie narrowly won the exhausting race for governor over Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine, Democrats retained control of the state assembly. There were also two special elections for the state senate seats of lawmakers who had won races for Congress in ’08.

The seat formerly held by Democratic Rep. John Adler was won by fellow Democrat Jim Beach. Former Camden County Clerk Beach had been appointed to the senate after Adler went to Congress.

Conservative GOPers got an “upgrade” in the 23rd District, which was held by moderate Republican Leonard Lance before he went to Congress last year. The new state senator is conservative Mike Dougherty, a state assemblyman and former freeholder from Warren County. Dougherty zinged the local Republican establishment by supporting Ron Paul for President in ’08 and conservative insurgent Steve Lonegan for nomination for governor in ’09. The breakdown in the senate remains 23 Democrats to 17 Republicans.

New York: Empire State GOP Rumblings

Republicans got a major boost with the upset victory of Rob Astorino over Democratic Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano. Running on a strong anti-tax platform, Astorino, the director of programming for Serius Radio’s Catholic Channel, topped the incumbent in fund-raising and won the three-candidate race.

In the race for Nassau County executive, GOP County Legislator Ed Mangano and Democratic incumbent Thomas Suozzi remained locked in a dead heat. At press time, Mangano trailed Suozzi by about 200 votes out of more than 230,000 cast, with just over 1,000 absentee ballots to be counted. Conservative Party candidate Steve Hansen, who is actually on Suozzi’s county payroll, drew 4% of the vote that probably would have elected the Republican. Mangano ran an across-the-board conservative campaign — strongly pro-life, opposed to gay marriage (Suozzi had switched his position from opposing to favoring same-sex marriages), and against the Democrats’ increasing the county property tax and imposing a new fuel tax. Suozzi has held the top office in Nassau County for eight years. The tightness of his re-election indicates to many that things seem to be changing in the county.

To the surprise of no one, billionaire liberal Mayor Michael Bloomberg won a third term running on the Republican ticket (although he is a registered independent). What was surprising was that Bloomberg, who set a new national record by spending an estimated $150 million on his campaign, won by only a 49%-45% margin over Democratic City Controller William Thompson, who spent about $6 million.

Most observers credit the mayor’s less-than-smashing victory to the city council’s voting last year, at Bloomberg’s urging, to lift the limits of two consecutive terms for mayor and council members that voters resoundingly enacted in a 1993 referendum. In the Democratic primary this year, three council members who voted to extend their terms were defeated and Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a strong advocate of lifting the limits, was held to 52% of the vote.

Pennsylvania: Judgment Day

In what was clearly the race of the day in the Keystone State, Republicans won the one seat on the state supreme court that was on the statewide ballot. The victory of Superior Court Judge Joan Orie Melvin means that the high court is now 4-3 Republican. Her Democratic opponent, fellow Superior Court Judge Jack Panella, had been endorsed by the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation in judicial races since 2003 and in the May primary. But, in the fall campaign, the Democratic hopeful did a political “U-turn” and accepted the blessings of Planned Parenthood’s Pennsylvania Political Action Committee. (The Pro-Life Federation backed Melvin.) Although judicial candidates traditionally don’t say where they stand on issues that may come before their courts, Panella ran ads toward the end of the campaign that charged, “Melvin wants to take away our rights, including our right to choose” and “Only Panella will protect women in their healthcare decisions.”

Texas: Showdown in the “Big H”

One of the hardest-fought mayoral races in Houston history reached its penultimate stage last week. With Democratic Mayor Bill White stepping down to run for the U.S. Senate next year, the top two vote-getters in the non-partisan primary last week were Democratic City Controller Annise Parker (30.5% of the vote) and businessman Gene Locke (25.9%). They will meet in a runoff in December.

In seeking to become the first openly lesbian mayor of a big city in the United States, the 53-year-old Parker made no secret of her sexual orientation. House Banking Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D.-Mass.) spoke at a fund-raising event for her, but downplayed issues of importance to the gay community. Asked in a debate if she favored city benefits for same-sex partners, she said she did but had “no current plan to offer that for a referendum.” Rather, Parker spoke of making budget cuts and putting more police on the streets.