Progressive Ballot Issues For Turnout and Framing

There are few more potent tools for impacting the outcomes of elections than changing what appears on the ballot. And there are no more direct paths from public outcry to passed legislation than through ballot issues. For years, the rightwing has been advancing policy goals, shaping message, and marshalling voters through ballot issues (we've already highlighted many of their current-year endeavors in this very newsletter). Progressives increasingly are fighting back using ballot issues -- which shouldn't be surprising, since initiatives and referedenda were originally a progressive reform.

The highest profile progressive ballot measure -- minimum wage increases -- this year is being advanced in multiple states. Increasing the minimum wage is a great issue because it both drives turnout among low-frequency, low-income progressive voters even while establishing a clear and positive distinction between progressive values that favor working families and rightwing policies that ignore the needs of most Americans.

But the minimum wage isn't the only progressive ballot issue being pursued this year. In fact, progressives have a whole host of simple policy measures being advanced for this November's elections. These ballot measures are being used to mobilize progressive voters and create the kind of positive contrast we need to define the progressive agenda. These measures are also often well-situated to be pitch perfect wedge issues in legislative agendas. In fact, legislative agenda items can lay the groundwork for initiatives and successful initiatives can help advance a more comprehensive legislative agenda. (On all of these items and other ballot issue questions, the Ballot Issue Strategy Center (BISC) is the go-to source of information for progressives.)

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Crafting Cures: Stem Cell Research

Many of us shook our heads in disbelief when George W. Bush used the first veto of his Presidency to strike down a bill providing public funding of stem cell research. Scientists believe that stem cells deliver cures and treatments for a range of diseases, including diabetes, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cancer, and multiple sclerosis. Vetoing research for such promising technology struck most Americans as a step backward.

Polling shows that such research is extremely popular, as is government funding for the research. In fact, this type of scientific research is exactly the sort of thing most Americans believe the government exists to do.

This year, Missouri's voters will have a chance to have their own say on stem cell research. A broad coalition of public health advocates, physicians, and business leaders are backing an initiative to protect the future of stem cell research in their own state.

In 2004, the voters of California approved their own initiative -- Proposition 71 -- that provided $3 billion in state funding for stem cell research. California followed New Jersey's lead -- the Garden State had already explicitly endorsed stem cell research and providing government funding for research. National polling last year showed Americans by a 16-point margin thought that other states should follow California's lead.

The reasons are clear. State leaders in Missouri hope that passage of the ballot measure will help spark high-tech research. Officials in other states view the investment of state money as funding being used not just to find cures, but also to create jobs.

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Growing Green: Renewable Energy for Jobs, America, and the Environment

Gas prices are over $3.00 per gallon. Americans are looking for better paying jobs. Al Gore is making national waves by starring in a movie about a slideshow regarding global warming.

How can we take advantage of this? Through policies that promote job creation, energy independence, and a cleaner environment. Voters in California and Washington will have the option to promote clean energy alternatives this fall.

The California measure -- Proposition 87 -- imposes drilling fees on oil companies to fund an array of initiatives promoting clean, alternative energy and increased efficiency. The measure -- backed by a wide range of agricultural, business, consumer, environmental, labor, and public health organizations -- would reduce gasoline and diesel use by 25% over 10 years. Polling indicates considerable support for the initiative -- a great sign, especially given California voters' recent ballot fatigue.

Further up the West Coast, Washington's voters are considering a different plan: regulations to require that 15% of the electricity from the state's biggest utilities come from renewable sources like wind and solar by the year 2020. The measure -- a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) -- also is achieving broad support from non-traditional coalition members.

In both states, the issues are following an approach popularized by the Apollo Alliance -- break out of the traditional environmental rubric and pitch the issue as being about the planet, the economy, and America's security. Renewable energy is a potent ballot issue. Again, the policy creates a stark and positive contrast between the progressive vision of shared investment for shared gain and the rightwing vision of bigger profits for oil companies. Even better, the 2004 initiative in Colorado is credited with turning out young voters -- a key progressive voting bloc.

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Renewing the Republic: Fusion Voting, Public Financing, and Ethics at the State Level

As scandal continues to grip Washington, statehouses have been taking the lead in renewing American democracy. Now, state leaders are taking some new approaches to the ballot as well, with major reforms poised for the ballot in California, Massachusetts, and Montana. These reforms will change how elections are run, how campaigns are financed, and how public officials handle their retirement. And they're proving how much can get done when the public is given a direct say in reforms.

  • California -- Fed up with the power of big money to wield big influence in Sacramento, the California Nurses Association has mobilized big time for Proposition 89 -- clean elections in California. In a year when citizens are expressing their outrage over politics as usual and new polling from the Public Campaign Action Fund shows strong support for voluntary public financing of campaigns, the initiative is already becoming a defining factor in California's gubernatorial race. Check out Californians for Clean Elections for more.
  • Massachusetts -- The Bay State is poised to be one of a handful of states to endorse "fusion voting" -- a system that allows multiple parties to endorse the same candidate for office and encourages voters to show their support for both the candidate and the platform. The system is already in place in Connecticut and New York where the support of third parties is often a critical factor in putting candidates over-the-edge in their victories. Check out more about the Massachusetts campaign at and about fusion voting at this Working Families Party website.
  • Montana -- Faced with a revolving door that has been a problem at both the state and federal level -- public officials using the connections they've made to land lucrative lobbying jobs -- Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer is pushing a two-year cooling-off period for public officials before they are permitted to lobby. The measure is going to the voters after legislators who would be impacted by it rejected it during Montana's 2005 legislative session. For more about the campaign, check out Montanans for Clean Government.