Economy Gives GOP Opportunities with New Voters

This op-ed column was originally published at

By Sen. Debby Barrett

It’s the economy, stupid! It’s a political slogan gone stale years ago, but as a campaign strategy it’s just as true today as it was when James Carville popularized it some 20 years ago.

Though terrorism, national security and foreign affairs continuously hold our focus, it’s vitally important that Republicans don’t lose sight of the importance of the economic issues that hit voters in their pocketbooks.

President Barack Obama has nicely laid the table for Republican candidates to dominate on economic issues in the coming year. Small businesses and consumers are already feeling the pressure of higher health care costs resulting from Obamacare. And the president’s economy-slowing energy plan has jeopardized thousands of middle-class jobs in Montana and around the country.

But exposing these bad polices for the economic havoc they have and will wreak is only half of the battle — we must also be prepared to present solutions to improve economic opportunity in America.

An easy place to start is the work place. The Employee Rights Act (ERA) is a ready-packaged, comprehensive solution that lays out the types of common-sense reforms that voters connect with. Several Republican presidential candidates such as Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz have made it clear they would sign the bill into law if elected, and other Republican candidates would be well-advised to follow their lead.

The ERA updates labor laws that date back as far as the 1930s. It would empower employees by preserving their right to the secret ballot for union elections. Taking away the right to a secret ballot runs contrary to the Democratic process and has the potential to skew union elections.

The law would also give current employees the right to periodically recertify their union. In some workplaces, very few of the employees actually were around when the union formed — but today they have no real way to opt out of a union that they may no longer wish to belong to. It’s estimated that fewer than 10 percent of existing union employees voted to form the union to which they belong.

These provisions become especially important in election years as unions have evolved into primarily political organizations. About 40 percent of union members vote Republican, but almost all union political dollars (90 percent) go to Democratic candidates and causes. What is so patently unfair about this situation is that the unions don’t have to ask permission from employees before allocating money from their dues and using it for political purposes.

The ERA would remedy this injustice by requiring unions to seek permission before taking money from members to spend on political campaigns they may not support.

The reforms in the ERA don’t benefit big business and they aren’t aimed at hurting unions — they’re centered squarely on ensuring the rights of employees are always the top priority.

It’s those employees who need Republicans to step up and fight for them. The economic damage created by the Obama administration has handed us a political opportunity and a chance to show that the Republicans are the true party of blue-collar Americans. It’s up to us to keep a focus on policies that will create new high-wage jobs and maximize employment opportunity for all.

Sen. Debby Barrett is the president of the Montana Senate. The Republican represents Senate District 36, which includes parts of Beaverhead and Madison Counties.