I’m originally from Virginia. Over the fifty years that I’ve been in Texas, when I tell people that I’m originally from Virginia, at least half of them reflexively repeat back to me, “West Virginia.” Sometimes it’s in the form of a question; other times it’s not. I don’t understand it, but that’s what happens. Since I’ve had to put up with that all these years I’m going to take the liberty of acting like I have some expertise on West Virginia. Part of that is that I know they are two different states, Virginia and West Virginia. 

Given my expertise, I’m also going to assert that most West Virginia voters don’t care whether the Senate filibuster lives or dies. I also think it’s highly unlikely that many West Virginians are sitting around saying they’ll vote against their Senator, Joe Manchin, if he votes to eliminate the filibuster. Come on. 

This comes to mind because the Texas Tribune reported last week that Manchin was coming to Texas, specifically the River Oaks neighborhood in Houston, a day after he met with fugitive Texas House Democrats who were trying to convince him to support voting rights legislation — and thus counter Texas Republicans’ Jim Crow style voter suppression bills. Manchin did not agree to support the voting rights bills pending before the Senate. Even if Manchin were to ultimately vote for those bills, the filibuster — requiring sixty votes to pass the bill — would come into play. 

Manchin’s trip to Texas was to attend a fundraiser with a bunch of oil industry tycoons. As the Tribune explained, “The host committee includes titans of the Texas oil and gas industry — many of whom donate almost exclusively to Republicans.” The Tribune added that there was at least one Democrat on the host committee, former Houston Mayor Bill White. Additionally, the Tribune noted that Manchin is “the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the most powerful perch on Capitol Hill when it comes to oil and gas policy.”

These oil tycoons and other corporate leaders are the actual people Manchin is representing when he speaks reverently of the filibuster, and says he will never vote to eliminate or change it. He’s not doing it to please his constituents in West Virginia. He’s doing it for his corporate buddies that pour money into his PAC, titled — evidently with no apologies to the late John Denver — Country Roads PAC.

Manchin’s trip to Texas was to attend a fundraiser with a bunch of oil industry tycoons.

Before moving on, let’s note for the record that the filibuster in question here is not the old time filibuster where a politician talks all night to prevent bad legislation from passing — like Jimmy Stewart did in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, or like Lloyd Doggett and then Gonzalo Barrientos did in real life when they represented Austin in the Texas Senate. No, the filibuster Manchin is trying to save just requires a Senator to say, “I’m going to filibuster.” Then they can sit down and even leave the Chamber. 

As most readers know, Manchin has a lot of power right now. Democrats have only 50 seats in the Senate, plus a tie breaking vote from Vice-President Kamala Harris. The filibuster rule, however, requires 60 votes for almost any legislation to pass the Senate. With 50 votes plus Harris Democrats could modify or eliminate the filibuster. Then they could pass a lot of important legislation, which voters sent them there to do. But, Manchin and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema refuse to even modify the filibuster. 

In closing this section I just want to note that West Virginia is a red state and Manchin is one of the very few elected Democrats. Virginia is a blue state that has gone Democratic in every presidential election since voting for Barack Obama in 2008. It has two Democratic US Senators, a Democratic Governor, and Democrats control the State Assembly. There are still a lot of red counties in Virginia, but Democrats there have managed to put a strong statewide coalition together, and have been able to repeatedly turn out enough votes to turn, and keep, the state blue.

That Brings Us To Surge Voters

The Manchin inspired deadlock reminds me of a group of voters called “surge voters.” I wasn’t familiar with the term until I saw Washington state Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, use it in a television interview a few weeks ago. Jayapal is also Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. She explained that surge voters are the ones who only vote in big elections, or when they get real excited about a particular candidate or cause. 

The fairly routine absence of surge voters in midterm elections is the fundamental reason why Democratic turnout always drops off. They’re the primary reason that Republicans won the House in 2010 and thus blocked a lot of the initiatives that President Obama could have gotten through Congress. Surge voters also deserve a lot of credit for the election of George W. Bush and Donald Trump because they just couldn’t get excited enough about Al Gore and Hillary Clinton.

US Turnout by Age - Courtesy of United States Elections Project
US Turnout by Age – Courtesy of United States Elections Project
US Turnout by Race and Ethnicity - Courtesy of United States Elections Project
US Turnout by Race and Ethnicity – Courtesy of United States Elections Project

Jayapal brought up surge voters because she was reporting on a recent poll commissioned by folks working with her. She reported one thing surge voters said would get them out to vote was if Democrats get a lot of good legislation passed. Then they might bother to vote in the 2022 midterms.

Well, surge voters — or at least the ones of you saying that — you have it backwards. The message you should be getting is that if you want things done then you need to elect more Democrats. That way one or two renegade Democratic Senators could not derail the whole Democratic/Biden legislative agenda. But, no. If Manchin and Sinema derail the Democratic agenda, then these surge voters are going to stay home and not vote. That will make it easier for Republicans to take back the House. And, it will help Republicans either flip the Senate or make it much harder for Democrats to win more seats. Then Congressional Democrats won’t get anything done for years; really deep thinking there surge voters.

So, voters who think like this, or Democratic leaning surge voters who for whatever reason don’t bother to turn out in midterm elections, are just as bad as Republicans —  because they are making it possible for Republicans to win.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep up hope for this country, but we’ll keep trying.


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