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Anti-Tax Forces Lose at Ballot/Split Decision on Gay Unions/Other Election Analysis

While the governors' races in New Jersey and Virginia got most of the headlines, other state races around the country delivered a mixed message by voters on a number of issues.

Anti-Tax Forces Continue to Fail at the Ballot Box:  The defeat of three anti-tax initiatives that were on the ballot in Washington state and Maine left the anti-tax movement as the big losers of the night -- and this just continues a multi-year string of defeats by the right-wing on tax issues.   In both states, voters rejected the so-called TABOR ("Taxpayer Bill of Rights") initiatives that would have created rigid formulas restricting the power of states to raise revenue that would have crippled those states' capacity to provide services like education, health care, emergency services, and public safety.  Voters in Maine also rejected a proposal to slash the excise tax on new and hybrid cars, which would have undermined local revenue around the state. 

Back in the early 90s, the right-wing managed to pass a TABOR system in Colorado at the ballot box, which had disastrous consequences, including large declines in K-12 funding and increased higher education tuition rates.  The measure additionally hindered the state's ability to address the lack of medical insurance coverage for many children and adults (see the PSN Dispatch on "TABOR's Disastrous Record in Colorado").  This led voters to partially repudiate TABOR at the ballot in 2005.  And when the right-wing tried to enact TABOR-like initiatives in states across the country in 2006, progressives highlighted fraud in signature collecting in multiple states and the issue was thrown off the ballot in Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma and Missouri.  On Election Day, voters in Maine, Nebraska and Oregon finished the job in voting down the remaining TABOR initiatives.  And in 2008, anti-government tax measures were defeated overwhelmingly in Massachusetts, North Dakota and Oregon.  So the 2009 results in Maine and Washington reflect that voters reject the rhetoric of the right-wing anti-tax movement -- a message more elected leaders should recognize as they grapple with budget crises needing new revenue.

Split Vote on Gay and Lesbian Unions:  Even as Washington state voters supported a broad domestic partnership law providing many of the legal protections of marriage, Maine voters by a close margin rejected a state law granting full marriage equality to gay and lesbian partners.   While the Maine loss was heartbreakingly close, supporters of marriage equality took heart from the fact that 47% of Maine voters supported it, something that would have been impossible even a decade ago.  And as we detailed this past Monday, young voters overwhelmingly support marriage equality, so victory is inevitable in coming years.  "As a young person in Maine, I actually feel very confident that marriage equality will be the law in our state at some point in my lifetime. I hope it's in the next couple of years," Maine House Speaker Hannah Pingree said.

Voters Continue to Support Public Investments:  Despite tough economic times, voters continued to support initiatives to dedicate funding to long-term initiatives for economic growth and environmental sustainability:

  • In Maine, voters approved a $71 million bond issue for improvements to highways and bridges, airports, public transit facilities, ferry and port facilities, including port and harbor structures that will make the state eligible for over $148,000,000 in federal and other matching funds.
  • In New Jersey, voters approved a bond act that would authorize $400 million in funds to acquire and develop lands for recreation and conservation purposes, preserving farmland, buying flood-prone or storm-damaged properties, and historic preservation projects.
  • Texas voters established a "National Research University Fund" to dedicate $500 million to turning seven Texas universities into top Tier 1 research institutions.

Although Gov. Ted Strickland opposed the initiative, Ohio voters, desiring jobs and economic growth, approved casinos in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo.  Supporters of the measure estimate the casinos will create 34,000 jobs, bring $200 million in licensing fees and generate an estimated $651 million annually in revenue for Ohio.  Ohio voters also approved selling $200 million of bonds to provide services and compensation to residents who are veterans of conflicts in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Denver Anti-Immigrant Measure Rejected:  Denver voters soundly rejected a so-called car impound initiative, which was designed to target undocumented immigrants by requiring police to seize the vehicles of every unlicensed driver they stop.

Mixed Message for Progressives in Candidate Elections:  In New York, a Democrat won a state Assembly seat that no Democrat had won since before the Civil War, even as progressive Gov. Jon Corzine lost in New Jersey.  In the recent Virginia Governor's race, the conservative Democratic candidate spent much of his time explaining how he opposed a public option in health care, opposed robust climate change legislation, and opposed reforms to protect the freedom of workers to form labor unions.  His subsequent loss highlights an important, perennial message for progressive candidates: when given a choice between a conservative and a conservative Democrat, voters will choose the true conservative.

Results were even more mixed when you look down ballot.  New Jersey Democrats held onto their large majorities in the Assembly with little change, while conservatives in Virginia gained a number of seats in their House of Delegates.  And conservatives gained majority control of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court by winning a hotly contested race for a state Supreme Court seat.  Yet as Progressive Majority details, local progressive candidates did well throughout the country, although progressives lost in a few upscale suburban districts around New York City.