Elections Provide Great News for Progressives at the State Level
State Returns Show Voters Embracing Progressive Agenda, Rejecting Rightwing Measures
Listen to audio
from Progressive States' election round-up conference call.
Missoula, MT ”“ Tuesday was a very good day for progressives. Voters put progressives in Governor’s mansions, attorneys general races, secretary of state offices, and legislative chambers. Most Progressive ballot measures advanced. Conservative ballot measures got trounced.
“We’re back,”? says Progressive States co-chair Steve Doherty, the former minority leader of the Montana Senate. “Our message talks directly to people at their kitchen tables, over the back fences. It’s talking about wages and access to health care and those issues are going to bring us back.”?
Doherty related that message in a post-election conference call with legislators, journalists, bloggers, and activists from across the country. He was joined by PSN executive director Joel Barkin and policy director Nathan Newman, as well as Lisa Seitz Gruwell, an experienced state-level political operative and chief operating officer of Skyline Public Works, and journalist Christopher Hayes.
The overwhelming theme of the conversation? State elections prove that progressive policy priorities ”“ even beyond the Iraq War ”“ are connecting with American voters, even as conservative messages are utterly failing.
Hayes noted that two of the biggest determining factors in the election ”“ Iraq and corruption ”“ were less likely to affect state races, as state candidates have little ability to impact foreign policy and corruption in the states is less partisan of an issue than it has been in Washington. Thus, analyzing the state results is a useful way of analyzing the domestic policy desires of the country: “In terms of teasing out what this election was about, the state results are a strong data point in favor of the fact that [”¦] there was a kind of philosophical shift among the electorate and it wasn’t just a referendum on the war.”?
Gruwell rattled off an explanation of major Democratic pick-ups in statewide offices and legislative chambers, noting that no chamber in the country saw the defeat of more than two Democrats. Democrats now control “the trifecta”? ”“ both legislative chambers and the Governor’s office ”“ in 15 states, compared to just 10 for the Republicans. She also specifically noted that heightened youth turnout, with young people voting overwhelmingly for change, was a key factor in the victory.
Even these victories understate the extent of the progressive victory on Tuesday. According to Joel Barkin, “Even where Republicans did win, many of these Republicans were actually running on, in some cases, very progressive platforms”? citing Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Jodi Rell of Connecticut as examples.
In fact, conservative messages utterly failed, not just among candidates, but when voters were simply given a clear policy choice. A tax revolt utterly failed to materialize when anti-taxing-and-spending measures went down to defeat everywhere they were on the ballot.
“One of the most dramatic parts of what happened was this almost complete collapse of many of the rightwing ballot initiative campaigns, especially those coming out of the tax revolt wing of the party,”? said Nathan Newman.
Key Election Stats:
* Democrats picked up six Governors’ seats, leaving 28 Democratic Governors and 22 Republican Governors.
* Democrats won three net Secretary of State seats. Republicans won three seats. Democrats won four. Incoming Governors in Maryland and New York will appoint new Secretaries of State, assumedly Democrats. That will leave the nation with 27 Democratic Secretaries and 23 Republican.
* Democrats already had a large lead among Attorneys General, with 29 of the 50 states. Democrats won seats in Kansas, Nevada, and Ohio on election day, losing Wisconsin, leaving the balance at 31 Democratic Attorneys General and 19 Republican.
* Democrats now control a majority of state legislative seats nationwide. At most recent count (from the National Conference of State Legislatures), Democrats controlled 3,986 seats to the Republicans’ 3,323 ”“ a net gain of 321 seats. Democrats now control both chambers in 23 states, up from 19. Republicans control both chambers in 15 states, down from 20.
Key Ballot Issue Results:
* The minimum wage was hugely popular, winning in all six states where it was considered.
* Health care issues proved popular, with Missouri approving its stem cell initiative, Oregon approving an expansion of its prescription drug program, and tobacco tax increases faring well in several states.
* Rightwing tax-and-spending initiatives failed in all six states where they were put on the ballot, indicating a rejection of the rightwing tax narrative.
* Arizona became the first state to reject a same-sex marriage ban. Seven other states passed bans, but Wisconsin conservatives now blame the measure for unexpected statehouse setbacks.
* Kelo reform was popular, regulatory takings are not. Eight states passed Kelo/eminent domaint reform. Three states rejected regulatory takings measures. Only one (in Arizona) passed.
* Rhode Island voters extended voting rights to felons upon release from prison.
* Voters indicated ballot issue fatigue, voting down 60% of ballot measures, including some great progressive measures that may have failed due to voter unfamiliarity with the central premise, including Massachusetts’ fusion voting measure and Arizona’s vote-by-mail initiative.
Speakers on the Progressive States Network conference call included:
Steve Doherty, co-chair of the Progressive States Network currently serves as the Chairman of Montana's Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Commission and has been a practicing attorney since 1984. Steve is a partner at Smith, Doherty & Belcourt, PC, in Great Falls. He served in the Montana State Senate from 1991-2003, including four years as Minority Leader. He is also a former Fleming Fellow for the Center for Policy Alternatives. Steve is also a member of the Montana Trial Lawyers Association.
Joel Barkin is the executive director of the Progressive States Network. He recently left the office of New York State Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat. Prior to working with Espaillat, Joel served as Communications Director and Special Advisor to Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Joel has worked on a number of campaigns and progressive initiatives. He has also worked in the Communications Department for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Nathan Newman is the policy director of the Progressive States Network. He has an extensive history of supporting local policy campaigns, from coalition organizing work to drafting legislation. Previous to coming to Progressive States, he was Associate Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, Program Director of NetAction's Consumer Choice Campaign, co-director of the UC-Berkeley Center for Community Economic Research, and a labor and employment lawyer. He received his J.D. from Yale Law School and his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California at Berkeley.
Lisa Seitz Gruwell is the Chief Operating Officer of Skyline Public Works, an organization that blends political philanthropy with a venture capital investment strategy. Lisa has an extensive political career in California, Montana, Michigan, Connecticut, and Oregon, including experience managing legislative and statewide officer races.
Christopher Hayes is a senior editor of In These Times and contributing writer to The Nation in addition to being a Puffin Foundation writing fellow at The Nation Institute. His in-depth reporting and essays have gained him a strong reputation since starting his writing career in 2004. His understanding of politics is aided by experience working on the ground with grassroots electoral organizations.
The Progressive States Network was founded in 2005 to drive public policy debates and change the political landscape in the United States by focusing on attainable and progressive state level actions. It recently changed its name from the Progressive Legislative Action Network (PLAN).