|Jubilation at Ohio election Results.|
The results of yesterday’s off-year elections were a stunning affirmation of progressive values and a rejection of the Tea Party Right Wing even in some of the most supposedly solidly conservative areas of the country.
There is a lot of professed astonishment out there. There shouldn’t be. When voters in a spasm of helpless rage threw out incumbents two years ago, most of the victims were Democrats. Others were long serving “moderate” Republicans. The Tea Party took credit, and to be honest, some should be given to them. But they, and the Republicans they elected, took it as a mandate and opportunity to drive the country further to right faster than anyone had believed possible.
But even back then, I was sure that when voters discovered what this collection of ideologues and sociopaths really had up their sleeves, they would reject them in droves in the next election. By that I meant Republican control of Congress and the 2012 elections. I didn’t anticipate the ham-handed eager stupidity of slews of Republican governors and state legislatures. Beginning in Wisconsin, and backed by the deep pockets of Randist billionaires, they launched an all out assault on public workers and labor rights. And that was just the beginning. They stacked the deck for future elections with waves of measures to restrict voter registration and ballot access. They stirred up populist anti-immigration sentiment with draconian legislation. To appease their allies from the Religious right, they enacted wave after wave of evermore restrictive anti-abortion and other assaults on women’s rights.
In doing so they stirred up dozens of hornets nests.
The election results Tuesday also came after a new movement arose, and took its message powerfully to the streets, that better articulated the outrage and frustration of ordinary Americans in ways the Tea Party could never do. Whatever its origins as a genuine movement, the Tea Party was soon the captive of the oligarchy which transformed it into a defense of corporate kleptocracy. The public, not as dumb as the Kotch Brothers and Fox News had hoped, caught on. Several polls published in the last few days have shown a dramatic shift to support of Occupy Wall Street’s critiques and objectives. As one, the United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, put it, “Some 59 percent of adults either completely agree or mostly agree with the protesters, while 31 percent mostly disagree or completely disagree; 10 percent of those surveyed didn't know or refused to answer.”
It took a massive movement in the streets to re-focus the national debate.
Finally, several of the state level issues were addressed in well organized, aggressive campaigns. In Ohio volunteers from Organizing For America (OFA), the Obama campaign infrastructure organization, fanned out across the state ringing doorbells and staffing phone banks, piggybacking of efforts by organized labor. In states were “social issues” were contested, the religious left and mainstream Protestant, Jewish, and on immigration Catholics organizations united as never before to counter the Religious Right. The Unitarian Universalist Standing On the Side of Love campaign was an important part of that effort.
Democrats, particularly liberals and progressives, should be emboldened by what happened yesterday. But they can’t take it for granted that they can automatically reap the benefits next year. If Congressional Democrats and the President are too eager to “compromise” on basic issues, if they continue to shore up the big banks and support unpopular causes like the Canadian Oil Sands pipeline, attacks on state legalized medical marihuana facilities, inequitable trade policies, and continued engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, they can squander the opportunity handed them. People could still choose to sit on their hands on Election Day if they conclude there is no real difference between the parties and to confine their activity to increasingly radicalized protest.
In case you missed it, here is a rundown of some—but not all—of yesterday’s electoral action.
- Ohio. Voters rejected Republican Governor John Kasich’s unpopular restrictions to collective bargaining rights by public employees. Ballot Issue 2 shot down Senate Bill 5 signed into law with great fanfare in March, by an overwhelming 61% to 39%. Ohio is a Rust Belt state with lots of blue collar workers that has a history of backing conservatives.
- Mississippi. In the deepest of Deep South states where Baptists routinely behave as if they were the established religion, anti-abortion zealots thought they had finally found the perfect launching pad for their treasured personhood initiative which would enshrine in the state constitution a provision declaring full “personhood” from the moment of fertilization. The amendment, which had previously been shot town twice by voters in Colorado, would not only have outlawed abortion in all cases, including rape and incest, but attacked birth control measures like the morning after pill and IUD. It might also have stopped in vitro fertilization because it often results in multiple fertilized eggs, some of which are discarded. The bill was so extreme that even the Catholic Church did not endorse it. Instead they remained neutral in the contest. But Methodist and Episcopal bodies along with smaller denominations including the United Church of Christ and Unitarian Universalists, actively campaigned against the ban. 55% of voters rejected the Amendment.
- Maine. This New England state was once the last bastion of liberal Republicanism, but as the GOP has drifted steadily to the right, it has become reliably Democratic in Presidential elections. The Tea Party helped put a right wing governor and legislature in power. They immediately offended many voters with the usual right wing initiatives. The governor stands no chance of re-election and the State House seems destined to return to Democratic control—unless Republicans could be successful in squelching voter registration and turn-out via supposed “ballot protection” laws. Governor Paul LePage signed a bill repealing a 38-year-old law allowing same-day voter registration. 60% of Maine voters killed it.
- Michigan. One of the main architects of Michigan’s draconian anti-labor legislation and attacks on public schools, Chairman of the House Education Committee, was narrowly defeated in a bitterly fought re-call election after being targeted by both teachers unions and parent activists. Also in Michigan, municipal voters in Traverse City voted overwhelmingly to keep a non-discrimination ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation that had been challenged by religious conservatives.
- Arizona. Another powerful Republican legislator was the victim of a recall election in Arizona. State Senator Russell Pearce was majority leader, and an outspoken immigration opponent. He drafted the bill rigid anti-immigration bill that brought street demonstrations and the attention of the nation to Arizona. This was an in-house GOP spat. Pearce was replaced by a business oriented Republican considered a moderate on immigration. But there was undoubtedly cross-over Democratic support for the challenger and Pearce’s loss is widely considered a slap at Governor Jan Brewer. Democrats did sweep to victory in mayors races in both Phoenix and Tucson where they also secured control of the city council. And in suburban Sunnyside, Daniel Hernandez Jr. was elected fill a vacancy on the Sunnyside Unified School District governing board, with 61.8 percent of the vote. Hernandez was the 22 year old intern and University of Arizona student who was lauded as a hero for coming to the aid of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords when she was shot. He is also openly Gay
- Iowa. A special election in Iowa was cast as a referendum on Gay Marriage because of the stated intention of the Senate Republican leader to move to strike down legal same-sex marriage rights in the state if he gained a majority in the house. Democrat Liz Mathis beat a Republican opponent with 55.5% of the vote guaranteeing that the Senate will remain in Democratic hands and no anti-marriage equality action can move.
- Montana. Voters in the University of Montana home city, Missoula voted overwhelmingly for an advisory referendum that calls for a Constitutional Amendment to end Corporate Personhood.
- Around the nation. Voters elected 55 of 75 openly gay candidates including Adam Ebbin, as the first openly gay Virginia senator in an election that otherwise showed Republican gains; 22 year old Alex Morse who beat a 67 year old incumbent and became not only Holyoke, Massachusetts’ first Gay mayor, but the youngest mayor in the country; and numerous other council seats and local offices.
Not everything was perfect. Virginia Republicans did pick up seats, but failed to take the state Senate and total control of the commonwealth government. Regressive ballot initiatives also won here and there, even in states where progressives otherwise won impressive victories. Ohio voters endorsed a vaguely worded supposed slap at Obama care. But the language claiming that it was meant to “preserve the freedom of Ohioans to choose their health care and health care coverage,” is a classic case of push polling at the ballot box. A referendum framed as supporting universal health care would have also passed.
More disappointing, Mississippi voters approved the requirement of photo identification to register to vote. Proponents played up virulent anti-immigrant sentiments in the state and claimed that it was necessary to prevent a wave of fraudulent voting by “illegals.” It’s always one step forward and two steps back in Mississippi.