Democratic Supermajority No Guarantee for Gay Progress

The 2008 election may already be one for the record books, but triumphant Democrats are still vying for an elusive political prize -- the 60-seat supermajority required to overcome Republican filibuster attempts and advance their legislative agenda swiftly beginning in January. But what are the odds of actually getting 60 seats -- and will it really push gay rights to the front of the line? 

BY Julie Bolcer

November 21 2008 12:00 AM ET

Ken Sherrill,
professor of political science at Hunter College of the
City University of New York, agrees.

“I
don’t think the issue is whether we have a
filibuster-proof majority,” says Sherrill.
“You don’t need a filibuster-proof majority.
You need 60 votes.”

Sherrill cites
the pragmatic, bipartisan coalitions that successfully
passed other civil rights legislation, as far back as 1964.

“You need
a stamp of approval,” he says. “It
demonstrates there is broad consensus.”

In other words,
if lingering legislation on hate crimes and employment
nondiscrimination moves, it will likely be a bipartisan
effort of many, but not all, Democrats working with
more moderate Republicans.

But even then,
the Senate will have been but one ingredient in the
complex process that gets legislation passed.

“There has
to be some lobbying,” says Sherrill. “There
has to be some education. There has to be some signal
from the White House that they want this to go
forward.”

Once again, it
seems, all eyes are on the president-elect and his
incoming team even as the coveted “magic 60”
hangs in the balance.

Georgia

After the
concession of long-serving Republican senator Ted Stevens of
Alaska, Democrats and the two independents who caucus with
them hold 58 seats. The results of undetermined
contests in Georgia and Minnesota could push them to
the supermajority, but the races show distinctly
different dynamics, and suggest that a split victory is
slightly more likely than a Democratic sweep.

In Georgia,
first-term Republican incumbent senator Saxby Chambliss will
face Democratic challenger Jim Martin in a runoff election
on December 2. The rematch is the result of a Georgia
law that requires a candidate to receive more than 50%
of the total vote to win. In the original contest,
Chambliss garnered 49.8% of the vote, Martin received 46.8%,
and Libertarian candidate Alan Buckley took 3.4%.

With the two
leading candidates now set back to zero, winning is largely
a matter of who can compel the most voters to participate
given the unusual circumstances.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” says
Alan Abramowitz, professor of political science at
Emory University. “The uncertainty is, Whose
supporters are going to turn out?”

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