MISSOULA, Montana - November 10 - 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
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 [É] 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
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
- 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)
- 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
Speakers on the Progressive States Network conference call
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
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.
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.
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).
Listen to audio from Progressive States election round-up conference call: http://www.progressivestates.org/files/election2006.mp3