Did Election Day pass you by?Politically Aware, Top Highlights Thursday, November 17th, 2011
Commentary: Politically Aware
You wouldn’t have known it in California, but Tuesday, Nov. 8, was Election Day. The third year of a president’s term typically has few marque races, but there were a number of states with elections impacting the progressive movement and the LGBT community.
Arizona. In one of the night’s biggest surprises, state Senate President Russell Pearce, the author of Arizona’s draconian immigration law, lost in a recall election. While billed as a progressive victory, a Fiesta Bowl ticket scandal likely contributed as much as the backlash against his immigration stance and his successor, Jerry Lewis is also a Republican, albeit a more moderate one.
Iowa. In September, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad cagily appointed a Democratic state senator, to the Iowa Utilities Board, opening a seat in a swing district. Tuesday, Democrat Liz Mathis defeated Republican Cindy Golding, preserving a narrow Democratic majority in the state Senate. Had she lost, Republicans would have controlled all parts of state government, and could have begun the process of repealing marriage equality in Iowa.
Ohio. In the wave of 2010, Republicans gained control of both houses of the state legislature, and ousted Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland in favor of Republican John Kasich. With no way for Democrats to block them, Kasich and the legislature passed a bill limiting union rights even further than the one passed in Wisconsin. Organized labor and their allies gathered an Ohio record 1,298,301 signatures to force a referendum (called Issue 2) on the legislation. Tuesday, Issue 2 lost by more than 20 percentage points, effectively repealing the legislation.
This was a critical election for organized labor, particularly after they proved unable to retake the state Senate in Wisconsin through recall elections. The victory in Ohio will likely embolden union supporters in Wisconsin to continue with a planned recall of Gov. Scott Walker. It also could be the beginning of a pendulum swing back toward Democrats, and President Obama, in 2012. More than 2 million votes were cast against Issue 2, more than the number of people who voted for Gov. Kasich in 2010. That’s impressive, particularly in an off-off-year election.
Mississippi. “The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.” That was the critical sentence in Mississippi’s Amendment 26, called the “Personhood Amendment” crafted to start all rights and protections at the moment of conception. Despite potential problems with a lack of exceptions for rape and incest, murder charges for Plan B users and “anchor fetuses” the amendment was endorsed by the Republican AND Democratic candidates for governor, and expected to pass. Its sponsors thought they would start with low-hanging fruit, like traditionally anti-abortion Mississippi, and take their charge against choice on the road. The people of Mississippi ended their tour early, defeating the measure by 16 points.
Maine. Like Ohio, the wake of the 2010 wave left Republicans in charge of all parts of Maine government. Instead of focusing on unions in 2011, Maine Republicans tried to tilt the playing field further in their direction, enacting a law requiring voters to register two days prior to an election, ending a 40-year tradition of same-day voter registration. Like most hurdles to voting (like requiring photo ID), the new law would have disproportionately limited ballot access for poor and underprivileged groups, in the name of combating a “voter fraud” problem, the existence of which has yet to be proven. Unlike in 2009, when they repealed legislation allowing same-sex marriage, “Main-Ahs” this time struck a blow for fairness with their “People’s Veto” reinstating election day registration.
Candidates. Annise Parker, the out lesbian mayor of Houston, won re-election without a run-off, leading a pack of successful LGBT candidates, including, Adam Ebbin, Virginia’s first openly gay state senator; Robin Kniech, the first out LGBT member of the Denver City Council; Alex Morse, a 22-year-old gay man elected mayor of Holyoke, Mass. (A more complete list is available at victoryfund.org.)
While these and other victories are impressive, it’s a tad optimistic to think that Americans now love the progressive agenda. Mississippians might easily vote to get rid of the one abortion clinic in the state, if the wording weren’t so broad that even some pro-life leaders questioned it. The Ohio Democrats hoping to build momentum for their pendulum swing conveniently overlook the fact that the same Ohioans who repealed union restrictions voted in favor of Issue 3, billed as a way to block the Affordable Care Act, by an even larger margin. Just outside Washington, D.C., Republicans in Virginia pulled even with the Democrats in the state Senate, their last strong-hold, and own the tie-breaker in Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.
More than endorsing a specific party or ideology, last Tuesday’s elections began to draw the boundaries of what will be “moderate” in 2012. You can limit union rights in Wisconsin, but not kill them in Ohio. Zygote rights are right-out in Mississippi, but requiring a new poll tax, i.e., photo ID’s, is just fine. Bon Qui Qui probably sums it up as well as any pundit – “You can have it your way, but don’t get crazy,” with crazy depending in large part where you live.
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