Surveying the cast of candidates who won on November 7 is still
muddled since so many victorious candidates emerged from multiparty
contests with no clear mandate for action. Thus the search for voters'
messages to policy-makers now centers on official tallies from binding
referenda in several states. Besides a boost for drug-law reformers
and educators, this fall's bounty of up-or-down ballot questions
yields few unequivocal signals--or wins--for progressives. The results
did, however, deal several major setbacks to conservatives.
In Oregon, where voters confronted 26 statewide referenda in the
state's first mail-in
general election, anti-tax activist Bill Sizemore lost all six of
his pet ballot proposals, including two aimed at crippling labor unions.
In its fourth attempt to write homophobia into state law, the Oregon
Citizens Alliance failed to pass Measure 9, which would have slashed
funding to public schools where teachers mention gay people in anything
but negative terms.
This year's bounty of ballot measures
yielded few big wins for progressives.
While rejoicing at the rejection of the Sizemore-backed "paycheck
protection" questions, unions also cheered the approval of Measure
99, which opened the door to collective bargaining by home health
care workers in the state, many of whom receive low wages and no
But Oregonians took a dim view of an ambitious drive to reform
campaign finance. They rejected Measure 6, passage of which would
have ushered in public funding and spending caps for candidates
for state office. A similar measure in Missouri also failed. In
California, however, voters approved Proposition 34 by a 3-to-2
margin, giving a resounding go-ahead to modest limits on campaign
contributions to candidates for state offices. (California voters
also continued the process of undoing the damage of 1978's infamous
anti-tax Proposition 13 by lowering the threshold for passage of
local school bonds from two-thirds to 55 percent.)
Perhaps the biggest winners in the slew of ballot-measure outcomes
were teachers, who stomped statewide voucher proposals in both California
and Michigan. Led by Gale Kaufman, the same Golden State consultant
who helped sink a notorious anti-union initiative in 1998, the campaign
against this year's pro-voucher Prop 38 racked up an impressive
71 percent "no" vote. In Michigan, the reluctance of local conservatives
like Gov. John Engler to back Proposal 1 left only out-of-state
pols like John McCain to herald the voucher scheme. The measure
failed by more than 2-to-1, a margin padded by the 44 percent share
of the state electorate that came from union households.
Voters in Alabama removed a constitutional ban on interracial marriage.
Proposals aimed at barring the use of certain animal traps and poisons
faced mixed verdicts, passing in Washington but losing in Oregon.
Anti-sprawl measures failed in both Arizona and Colorado. Background
checks on firearms purchases at gun shows won sweeping approval
in both Colorado and Oregon. Also in the Rocky Mountain State, voters
rejected a mandatory "informed consent" measure aimed at dissuading
women from having abortions. The loss, by a whopping 3-to-2 margin,
dealt another blow to Focus on the Family, the religious-right powerhouse
that also failed to stop the state's medical marijuana measure.
Still, progressives faced some significant setbacks in ballot questions.
By razor-thin majorities, Maine voters rejected both physician-assisted
suicide and yet another referendum aimed at extending nondiscrimination
protections to gay people in the state. In both Nevada and Nebraska,
measures to ban same-sex marriage drew 70 percent approval; the
Nebraska ban also encompasses domestic partnerships, the first such
prohibition by any state. Finally, just two years before Utah hosts
the Winter Olympics, two-thirds of voters in the state yanked a
welcome mat from under their Latino neighbors by approving a measure
making English the official language. All government business will
now be conducted in English only.