PROGRESSIVE SUCCESSES IN THE 2014 ELECTION

ABSTRACT: Perhaps surprisingly, in the context of Republican and conservative candidates’ victories in the 2014 election, many ballot initiatives that were decidedly liberal or progressive passed. Democrats running clearly progressive campaigns for the US Senate won in 3 states. The Republican victories in many very close races were made possible by very low voter turnout. Only 35% of those registered to vote and 25% of those eligible to vote actually voted.

Voters in four Republican states – Arkansas, Alaska, Nebraska and South Dakota – raised the minimum wage despite concerted and well-funded opposition. In Richmond, California, progressives defeated mayoral and city council candidates heavily funded by Chevron, the nation’s third largest corporation. In Arkansas, despite a sweep by Republican candidates, a ballot initiative passed that reformed campaign finance and ethics laws. In Tallahassee, Florida, voters also approved reforms in campaign finance and ethics laws. In dozens of communities in four states (Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Ohio), voters overwhelmingly favored ballot measures supporting a federal constitutional amendment that would state that corporations do not have the same rights as human persons and that money is not equivalent to speech and therefore can be regulate in election campaigns.

This all makes it clear that Republican candidates’ election victories do not reflect public opinion on many important policy issues. Rather, they were the result of a failure of many Democrats to campaign on popular progressive policies. Furthermore, the election outcomes reflect Republicans’ successes in changing the rules of our elections to suppress voter turnout and allow the spending of huge sums by wealthy corporations and individuals.

FULL POST: Perhaps surprisingly, in the context of Republican and conservative candidates’ victories in the 2014 election, many ballot initiatives that were decidedly liberal or progressive passed – sometimes even in the same jurisdictions that were electing conservatives. Furthermore, Democrats running for the US Senate who ran some of the most clearly progressive campaigns won: Senator Jeff Merkley (Democrat of Oregon), Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.), and incoming Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.).

The Republican victories in many very close races were made possible by very low voter turnout – the lowest since 1942 – which favors Republicans and conservatives. Only 35% of those registered to vote and 25% of those eligible to vote actually voted. In the Congressional elections, Republicans won 52% of the vote, which represents only 17% of those registered to vote and 13% of those eligible to vote. [1] Hardly a mandate by normal standards. The Republican’s large majority in the US House is largely due to extreme gerrymandering of House districts.

Despite the context, every major progressive or Democratic ballot initiative won, even in Republican states. Every minimum wage increase won and every personhood amendment failed (CO & ND). (These are amendments to state Constitutions that confer personhood and all its rights on embryos at fertilization.) [2] Across the nation, voters also passed measures against fracking, for paid sick leave, for criminal justice sentencing reform, and for gun purchase background checks. [3]

Voters in four Republican states – Arkansas, Alaska, Nebraska and South Dakota – raised the minimum wage against the concerted and well-funded opposition of national and local big business groups. This will raise the pay levels for over 1.7 million workers. Alaska and South Dakota linked the minimum wage to inflation, so it will increase automatically in the future. San Francisco and Oakland voters also overwhelmingly increased the minimum wage in those cities. Illinois voters strongly supported a non-binding referendum to raise the minimum wage.

In Richmond, California, progressives defeated mayoral and city council candidates funded by Chevron, the nation’s third largest corporation. Chevron, which owns a huge refinery in the city, poured at least $3 million into the local elections in this working class city of 105,000 people (about $150 for each likely voter). It sought to oust a progressive local government that was requiring it to clean up its pollution, pay more taxes into city coffers, and be a more responsible and accountable corporate citizen. Wall St. corporations also participated in the attempt to throw out the progressives because the city government, faced with a decade of predatory lending and an epidemic of foreclosures and “underwater” mortgages, demanded that Wall Street banks help troubled homeowners save their homes. In the election, community groups, labor unions, the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), and others mobilized a grassroots campaign to re-elect a progressive city government. [4]

A California ballot initiative reformed sentencing laws and one in Washington State expanded criminal background checks for gun purchases. In Arizona, voters defeated a right wing attempt to undermine public employee pensions. In Denton, Texas, the heart of oil and gas country, voters banned fracking, the controversial drilling method for extracting gas from rock formations.

In Arkansas, despite a sweep by Republican candidates, a ballot initiative passed that reformed campaign finance and ethics laws. It bans direct corporate and union campaign contributions to candidates, forbids lawmakers from accepting gifts of any kind from lobbyists, and increases the amount of time departing lawmakers must wait before lobbying from one to two years.

In Tallahassee, Florida, voters overwhelmingly approved an anti-corruption initiative limiting campaign contributions, creating a $25 tax rebate for small contributions, and boosting ethics reforms by creating an ethics panel and a tough conflict-of-interest policy for city officials. In dozens of communities in four states (Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Ohio), voters overwhelmingly favored ballot measures supporting a federal constitutional amendment overturning Supreme Court decisions including Citizens United and McCutcheon. The amendment would state that corporations do not have the same rights as human persons and that money is not equivalent to speech and therefore can be regulated in election campaigns. [5]

This all makes it clear that Republican candidates’ election victories do not reflect public opinion on many important policy issues. Rather, they were the result of a failure of many Democrats to campaign on popular progressive policies. Furthermore, the election outcomes reflect Republicans’ successes in changing the rules of our elections to favor big business and conservative interest groups by suppressing voter turnout and allowing the spending of huge sums by wealthy corporations and individuals. [6]

[1]       Murphthesurf3, 11/20/14, “GOP columnist: The VERY bad news for the GOP in the GOP’s midterm victory,” The Daily Kos

[2]       Ladd, C., 11/10/14, “The missing story of the 2014 election,” Houston Chronicle

[3]       Dreier, P., 11/7/14, “Progressive Midterm Victories You Didn’t Hear About — And Some That Could Still Happen,” The American Prospect

[4]       Dreier, P., 11/7/14, see above

[5]       Blumenthal, P., 11/14/14, “Where campaign finance reformers actually won on election day,” The Huffington Post

[6]       Dreier, P., 11/7/14, see above

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