So Sen. Arlen Specter announced that he was switching parties — from a Republican to a Democrat. Given that his voting record indicated that he voted with his party less than fifty percent of the time, his switch was really more form than substance.
Specter acknowledged that he was facing almost certain defeat in the upcoming Republican primary in Pennsylvania. Recent polls showed that he was trailing by nearly twenty percentage points. He had amassed a campaign war chest of over $5 million dollars and even that significant lead in fund raising wasn’t going to be enough to overcome his lack of support amongst Pennsylvania Republicans. (To Specter’s credit he has promised to return all of that money — time will tell whether he fulfills that commitment.)
Specter said that his change of parties would not affect his principles and that he would continue to vote those principles regardless of party designation. But therein lies the rub and puts the lie to his announcement.
Less than a month ago, Specter announced that he would not be the sixtieth vote to break the threatened filibuster against organized labor’s pet project — the so-called Employees Free Choice Act. You will recall that this is the measure that allows labor unions to avoid elections with secret ballots to determine whether employees want the unions to represent them.
Ever since the first pronouncements on the rights of workers to organize, the hallmark has been the secret ballot. It was put in place primarily to keep management from trying to intimidate workers into voting against the unions or from seeking retribution if they did. But now the shoe is on the other foot. Unions have become infamous for sending in hairy, three hundred pound behemoths (and that’s just the women) to intimidate workers into signing union pledge cards. One of the worst of the offenders is the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) which has been forced to suspend organizing efforts because of federal action relating to their tactics of intimidation.
These cards are used to trigger the secret ballot election if there is sufficient support. The trouble is that the unions have been losing the majority of these elections. Apparently, workers sign the pledge cards simply to avoid the harassment and intimidation knowing full well that they can subsequently vote “NO” at the election and avoid unionization. And they can vote “NO” without fear of retribution because the ballots are secret.
The Employees Free Choice Act eliminates the protection of an election with secret ballots. It is the number one priority for the nation’s unions and they extracted unwavering support for it from President Barack Obama during his election campaign.
With the election of Obama and the substantial majorities in both the House and the Senate, the labor unions moved this legislation to the top of the stack. Speaker Nancy Pelosi rammed it through the House without hearings or significant debate. But the Senate is a different story. Despite the Democrats’ majority in the Senate, they still need sixty votes to close debate (override a filibuster) and Specter was that sixtieth vote.
Specter has acknowledged that he has had discussion with Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid and other top Democrats (most likely including the union leadership which has an unofficial seat at all such discussions). So here are the big questions that should be asked by the mainstream media but never will be.
1. Sen. Specter, will you hold to your commitment to withhold your vote for ending a filibuster against the Employees Free Choice Act?
2. Have you received a commitment from the Democrat’s Senate Campaign Committee or the Pennsylvania Democrat Party that you will not have a primary opponent in the upcoming Pennsylvania primary?
3. Have you received a commitment from organized labor to either support your campaign or withhold support from any other candidate during the Democrat primary?
4. Have you received a commitment from organized labor to support your campaign against the Republican candidate in the general election? If so, how much money has been committed?
Of course, these are all rhetorical questions because they won’t be asked and even if they are they won’t be answered. But the answers will all be known when Specter changes his position on the Employees Free Choice Act within the next several months.
So much for voting your conscience, Arlen.