Off-year elections are almost never good for progressives, and 2015 is no exception. But this off-year election held some surprising victories for progressives in Maine, Ohio, Washington and elsewhere that could lay the foundation for more victories to come.
Earlier this week, I wrote about campaigns in Seattle and in Ohio that had the potential to change how we do politics in America.
- In Seattle, Initiative 22 proposed a new take on an old right-wing trick: vouchers. Except in this case they’re “Democracy Vouchers,” designed to loosen the grip of the “donor” class — which accounts for 0.3 percent of Seattle’s population but half of contributors to local political campaigns — on local politics.
- Ohio’s Issue One took on gerrymandering with a constitutional amendment that banned political gerrymandering, established a bipartisan commission to determine the shape of legislative districts, and gave the minority party a bigger voice in how districts are drawn.
Maine voters also took aim at Citizens United with Question 1, a ballot initiative that strengthened the state’s already famous system of publicly funding elections, created by the Maine Clean Elections Act in 1996. Under Question 1, not only will candidates who agree to participate be eligible for public funding, but they will be forced to disclose top donors in their political advertisements.
Voters in Maine and Seattle approved ballot measures aimed at amplifying the voices of ordinary Americans, and reducing the influence of big money in politics. Maine voters approved Question 1 by a vote of 55 percent to 45 percent. In Seattle, preliminary results showed Initiative 22 passing with 60 percent in favor and 40 percent opposed.
Meanwhile, Ohioans overwhelmingly voted in favor of reforming Ohio’s partisan process for drawing and redrawing legislative districts. Issue 1 passed with 71 percent of the vote according to final, unofficial counts. The success of Issue 1 has encouraged activists to look ahead to passing the same reforms for congressional districts next year. If successful, Ohio could point the way for more activists to do the same in their own states, with far-reaching implications for the makeup of Congress.
The wins in Seattle, Maine, and Ohio are game-changing victories for democracy. Each represents an impressive effort by state and local activists and coalitions, and will no doubt inspire more Americans to take action. Each shows what people-powered movements can do.
In the post-Citizens United world, every day Americans weren’t supposed to be able to take on the big money poisoning our politics, and win. Yet, that’s exactly what happened. Seattle, Maine, and Ohio proved that We The People can fight back against big money’s influence in politics.
There are even more victories to celebrate:
- New Jersey:Assembly Democrats picked up three seats, leading to the largest majority they’ve had in 36 years. The biggest upset involved defeating two Republican incumbents, whose seats the party had held since 1991.
- Elizabeth, New Jersey:Voters approved a law guaranteeing all residents the right to earn paid sick leave. Elizabeth became the 10th city in New Jersey, and the 22nd in the country, to pass such a law. California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Oregon have passed their own leave laws. More than 10 million Americans are now covered by these laws.
- Tacoma, Washington:Voters, in a two-step process, approved an increase in the minimum wage to $12 an hour. By a 59 to 41 percent margin, Tacoma voters supported raising the minimum wage, and then by a margin of 71 to 29 percent supported raising it to $12 an hour. While activists who were fighting for a $15 an hour minimum lost, those activists were given credit for making any increase at all possible.
- Jefferson County, Colorado:Voters in Jefferson County, Colorado voted overwhelmingly to recall three members of the county school board, and elected two others to form an entirely new board. The three incumbents won seats on the board several years ago, as part of a school reform push. The conservative board members held secret meetings, hired their own lawyer, tied teacher pay to new review procedures, directed more funds to charter schools and proposed changing the Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum to “promote patriotism.”