Voters Across Nation Push Back Against Right-Wing Overreach in the States

Exactly one year ago, conservatives swept the states on Election Day, thanks to promises to focus on jobs and the economy. But in states where conservatives were able to advance their agenda in 2011 sessions, voters only saw attacks on workers, the middle class, women, immigrants, and historically disenfranchised communities.

This week, voters from every corner of the nation - form Ohio to Maine to Arizona to Mississippi - sent a striking and direct message in response, rejecting the overreach of right-wing legislatures and governors in 2011 on a range of issues.

In Ohio, Senate Bill 5 - a law that was forced through the state legislature this spring to strip law enforcement officers, firefighters, and other public employees of fundamental collective bargaining rights - went down in flames at the polls. After consistent polling that saw Senate Bill 5 broadly unpopular with voters, a grassroots effort to gather 1.3 million signatures to put it on the ballot, and a campaign that saw corporate interests flood the state with money in attempt to save it, the measure was decisively rejected at the polls by a landslide margin of 61%-39%.  As The Nation's John Nichols describes it, the massive margin of victory in Ohio was not just a victory for unions and public workers, but "a rejection of the crude politics of austerity that would balance budgets in the backs of working families in order to reward CEOs and banksters."

In Maine, another controversial, unpopular right-wing legislative attack from 2011 was on the ballot: the ban enacted this session on the state's widely popular, four-decade-old election practice that allows new voters to register on Election Day. After collecting signatures to put the law up for a "people's veto," voters in Maine ended up restoring same-day registration by a huge margin similar to the one seen in Ohio: 61%-39%. A majority of voters in every county in Maine voted to restore same day registration. Shenna Bellows, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, told the Bangor Daily News that "Maine voters sent a clear message: No one will be denied a right to vote... Voters in small towns and big cities voted to protect our constitutional right." 

Social issues were not nearly as prevalent on state ballots as they have been in previous years, but the most prominent and extreme of them ended up being decisively rejected. In Mississippi, an extremist anti-abortion constitutional amendment that would have defined a fertilized egg as a "person" under state law was dismissed by more than 55% of voters statewide.

Meanwhile, special elections in a handful states also signaled a backlash against extremist right-wing social policies, attacks on immigrants, and other measures that they have seen pass in their states and others under conservative control. In a bold rejection of Arizona's economically destructive anti-immigrant legislative policies, the author of SB1070, State Senate President Russell Pearce, was defeated in a recall election, becoming the first Arizona legislator ever to lose a recall election, and the first senate president in any state to ever be recalled. In Michigan, a state legislator was defeated in a recall election for the first time in 28 years in what was seen as a referendum on his support of education cuts and attacks on the bargaining rights of teachers. And in Iowa, voters in a legislative special election decided not to give conservatives full control of the state senate, fearing that they would push through extremist legislation possibly including a repeal of same-sex marriage. 

Election Day results weren't entirely positive for progressive policies across the nation - a symbolic attack on health care reform passed in Ohio and a voter suppression measure passed in Mississippi. And while the message of rejection of right-wing overreach was loud and clear, proactive progressive measures were by and large missing from the ballot this November. With the public clearly on their side on economic issues in poll after poll, and with the 99% movement opening political space for policies that truly grow jobs and state economies, support the middle class, and reduce economic inequality, it will be up to progressives in 2012 to seize the initative and capitalize on the growing rejection of failed conservative policies in the states.