The morning after Election Day, conservative candidates across the country woke up to find themselves the beneficiaries of an historic national wave of voter anger over the state of the economy and record unemployment. Exit polls and other surveys unanimously showed that jobs and the economy were by far the primary issues on voters’ minds as they cast their ballots - while they simultaneously revealed no mandate for a conservative economic agenda that would hurt working families.
Yet in the first few weeks after this clear voter statement of frustration over the economy, conservative state lawmakers across the fifty states are already making it clear that their legislative priorities next year will include pushing a divisive social agenda - an agenda that remained largely hidden during the campaign.
Chief among the fights soon to take center stage in many statehouses will be a renewed right-wing attack on reproductive rights. Troy Newman, the leader of the notorious anti-choice group Operation Rescue, recently described the post-election outlook for social conservatives in the states by saying it made him feel like “a little boy on Christmas morning - which package do you open up first?”
In Iowa , the incoming Speaker-elect has indicated that he intends to pursue late-term abortion legislation to remove existing language that preserves the life or health of the mother. Some Florida lawmakers are promising to revive legislation next session - passed but vetoed by outgoing Gov. Crist this session - that would require mandatory ultrasounds for all women seeking abortions. Conservative lawmakers in Kansas are planning to push further reproductive restrictions. And the Washington Post recently reported that anti-choice groups are targeting “several states where Republicans made significant gains” with legislation that could bar private insurance companies from covering abortions under their standard plans.
Foes of same-sex marriage also plan to push new legislation in the states, following the first Election Day in years in which voters did not face a single statewide anti-marriage initiative. Anti-marriage forces in states like Indiana and North Carolina are promising to renew efforts to adopt a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The right-wing National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has indicated their intent to target states where marriage proponents had either made recent gains, or were promising to do so, including New Hampshire, Maine, and Minnesota, in an attempt to roll back recent victories for same-sex marriage proponents. (Despite the efforts of NOM and others, a bipartisan majority in the Illinois House of Representatives passed a civil unions bill this week, which is expected to become law.)
As the Far Right prepares to take control in many statehouses - and to assert newfound influence in others - their radical social agenda will increasingly come to the surface in an attempt to distract from their failure to address the pressing economic issues facing many of their constituents. Progressives have the opportunity to champion the type of policies that will make a real difference in the lives of the same voters who turned out this year to register their rejection of the status quo, and the responsibility to highlight when the other side chooses not to do so.