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A Good Day for Progressives

Tuesday's election saw a nationwide repudiation of the rightwing agenda-- and the emergence of new progressive leaders and ideas across the country, from Congress down to the statehouses. Change in control of the US House and Senate is dominating the headlines, but sweeping change is also coming to our statehouses due to the election.

This was not merely a partisan "throw the bums" out reaction, but as issues raised in the elections and ballot initiatives approved across the country show, this was a real political movement away from rightwing ideology towards common sense commitments to improving the lives of working families.

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Changing Statehouses

While some recounts are in progress, the turnover in the statehouses was impressive with Democrats gaining approximately 275 state legislative seats across the country-- giving them control of nine additional chambers across the nation, including both Iowa chambers, the Indiana House, the Minnesota House, the Michigan House, the Oregon House, the Wisconsin Senate and both the New Hampshire House and Senate. The last is especially impressive since Democrats have not had a majority in the New Hampshire House since before the Civil War. Significantly, the Democratic gains extended across the country with the party even gaining 26 seats in Southern states and extending their margins in ten chambers. Republicans apparently gained a few seats in the Oklahoma Senate and Montana Senate to create ties in those chambers.

The end result was 54 Democratic-controlled chambers, 42 Republican-controlled and one nonpartisan chamber in Nebraska. Democrats added six additional governor positions to their column as well, giving them control of both legislature and executive offices in fifteen states with Republicans controlling ten states and 24 with divided control.

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Voters Repudiate the Rightwing Agenda

Highlighting that Tuesday was not a mere partisan vote but a significant progressive turn by voters, a range of rightwing ballot initiatives went down to defeat:

Tax Revolt 2006 Crashes and Burns: The rightwing movement's goal to put TABOR tax limitation initiatives on ballots across the country began to fall apart earlier this year when progressives highlighted the fraud in signature collecting in multiple states and had them thrown off the ballot in Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma and Missouri. On Tuesday, voters in Maine, Nebraska and Oregon finished the job in voting down the remaining TABOR initiatives left. (See these Progressive States' talking points on TABOR distributed to legislators and advocates early in the year). An initiative to repeal Washington's state estate tax was also rejected by voters, while Oregon and South Dakota rejected other significant tax reductions.

The Takings Trap Gets Derailed: Some of the same funders of TABOR like developer Howie Rich had hoped to sneak radical "regulatory takings" rules -- provisions that would bankrupt local governments by forcing them to compensate landowners for every local land use regulation -- into a number of the post-Kelo eminent domain initiatives on ballots around the country. Again, a number were thrown off the ballot due to fraud during petition collecting and of those remaining on the ballot, voters in California, Idaho and Washington all rejected the deception, with only Arizona approving a takings initiative on Tuesday.

Social Wedge Issues Lose Steam: The overall election results on Tuesday reflect the fact that voters are increasingly refusing to be distracted by wedge social issues put on the ballot by the Right. While more bans on gay marriage were enacted in a number of states, the margins were lower than in past years and Arizona became the first state to vote down an anti-gay marriage initiative. Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, noted that "fear-mongering around same-sex marriage is fizzling out." Voters in South Dakota voted to repeal the extreme abortion ban passed by the legislature there and Ohio and California rejected parental notification abortion restrictions.

Other Rightwing Defeats:  The "65% Solution" stalking horse for public school privatization, highlighted by Progressive States here earlier this year was rejected by voters in Colorado, while a radical anti-judge initiative was rejected in South Dakota.

On the negative side, anti-immigrant initiatives were approved in Arizona and Colorado and the Michigan anti-affirmative action initiative also passed, but it is remarkable how much of the rightwing ballot agenda for 2006 was decisively rejected by voters, a sign of the public rejection of the political games they have played in recent years.

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Progressive Ballot Victories

Even as voters have become more skeptical of all ballot initiatives in recent years, largely due to rightwing abuse of the process, progressive measures had a large measure of success across the country:

Minimum Wage Triumphs: In all of the six states where minimum wage was on the ballot, voters approved passage, often by astounding margins such as the 76% approval in Missouri and the 73% support in Montana. And since these minimum wage initiatives are indexed to inflation, low-income workers won't see these raises eroded by the rising cost of living -- a significant victory for advocates who want to make inflation-indexing of the minimum wage standard across the country.

Voters Back Early Childhood Education: Voters in both Arizona and Nebraska backed funding increases for early childhood education, signalling the increased attention the public is giving to directing resources for pre-school education. Other education funding proposals had more mixed success, but California voters approved a $10.4 billion bond issue for K-12 and higher education construction projects and Alabama approved a measure to require every school district in the state to provide at least 10 mills of property tax for local schools.

Clean Energy Prevails in Washington State: Washington state voters approved a comprehensive ballot measure that requires 15% of the electricity from the state's biggest utilities come from renewable sources like wind and solar by the year 2020. While California voters narrowly failed to approve an oil extraction tax to fund alternative energy investments in that state, they did approve a bond measure to build housing near public transportation, a measure to combat sprawl by helping working families afford housing nearer those transit corridors-- an example of how social justice can reinforce environmental goals. And New Jersey approved a gas tax increase to both help its budget and encourage use of higher-efficiency cars.

Health Care Victories around the Country: The passage of stem cell research funding in Missouri was a triumph of science and compassion for those suffering degenerative illnesses. Oregon voters expanded access to a prescription drug program for the uninsured. Arizona and South Dakota approved tobacco tax increases and Arizona, Nevada and Ohio approved strict smoking bans.

Other Progressive Victories: San Francisco voters approved a ground-breaking measure to guarantee full-time workers seven to nine sick days per year. Rhode Island passed a measure to automatically restore voting rights to felons when they are released from prison. Oakland, Minneapolis, Davis (CA) and Pierce County (WA) all approved new methods to allow voters to rank their choice of candidates-- a reform that helps avoid wasteful runoffs and "spoiler" candidacies.

A few other admirable initiatives like public financing of elections in California, vote by mail in Arizona and establishing a child care authority to promote quality child care in Massachusetts failed to gain approval in the face of conservative opposition, but progressives clearly had a good night at the ballot box Tuesday.

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Conclusion: A Rising Progressive Movement

While there is still lots of organizing to be done to achieve the range of progressive social change needed for working families in our country, this election clearly marks the end of an era when the rightwing could slide rightwing pet projects past voters year after year and use wedge social issues to distract them from other core social and economic justice concerns.

The success of progressive candidates, the defeat of much of the rightwing agenda at the ballot box across the country, and the triumph of so many progressive initiatives all add up to a message of the ascendency of progressive values among voters.

For an in-depth discussion of the election results and implications at the state level, please join Progressive States later today -- at 4:30 PM Eastern Standard Time -- on a conference call to discuss the results. Progressive States executive director Joel Barkin will be joined by co-chairs David Sirota and Steve Doherty, as well as Lisa Seitz Gruwell, an experienced political hand and chief operating officer of Skyline Public Works; Christopher Hayes, one of America's rising star political journalists; and Rep. Dianne Rosenbaum of Oregon, the chair of the National Labor Caucus of state legislators.

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