Election Night 2007: Progressive Gains but a Mixed Night on Ballot Initiatives Around the Country

Election Night 2007: Progressive Gains but a Mixed Night on Ballot Initiatives Around the Country

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

Events: Conference Call

Immigration Conference Call

The Progressive States Network will be hosting a conference call on November 15th with key state legislators and advocates to discuss legislative strategy on immigration for the 2008 session. The call will accompany a strategy paper PSN will be releasing that week to highlight politically smart legislative ways to respond to anti-immigrant attacks and the network of organizations available to support humane immigration legislation at the state and local level.

The call will be at 4pm EST next Thursday, November 15th.

Please RSVP at

Election Roundup

Election Night 2007: Progressive Gains but a Mixed Night on Ballot Initiatives Around the Country

While elections were held on Tuesday only in selected states, it confirmed a few national trends continuing from 2006.

On the electoral front, progressive candidates made gains across the country, with Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher, mired in accusations of corruption, losing in a landslide to Democrat Steve Beshear, who led a sweep of statewide offices. In Virginia, amidst internal warfare between more moderate and right-wing Republicans, Democrats took control of the Virginia Senate for the first time since 1995 and made gains in the state House. In Mississippi Republican Governor Haley Barbour was re-elected, but Democrats appear to have taken control of the state Senate. In big-city mayoral races, Houston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Utah's Salt Lake City all elected or re-elected Democrats. The status quo mostly prevailed in New Jersey as Democrats added a seat in the state Senate and lost two in the House, but retained control in both. In New York local elections, a few Republican gains upstate were balanced by Democrats widening their control of the Suffolk County Legislature on Long Island.

Ballot initiatives were more of a mixed bag this election, with a few headline results (see below for more detailed analysis):

  • Utah voters massively repudiated a plan by the state legislature and governor to institute school vouchers.
  • In Oregon, voters repudiated the radical anti-environmental Measure 37 approved at the ballot a few years back, while voters around the country generally approved measures to preserve open space. 
  • On the health care front, Oregon rejected a tobacco tax to fund expanded health care for kids, and New Jersey rejected a ten-year bond program to fund stem cell research, but Texas approved a $3 billion bond for cancer research. 
  • Washington approved a measure that would apply triple damages to insurers who deny non-health insurance coverage to clients.
  • Voters across the country approved bonds for a variety of purposes, while Washington State tightened its super-majority limits on tax increases by the state legislature.

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Immigration Non-Issue in 2007 Elections

In 2006, many analysts raised fears that anti-immigrant fervor would doom progressive candidates.  Instead, progressives won big in those elections. Immigration was a non-issue for many voters and fueled a backlash last year against conservative candidates by many Latino voters who had supported President Bush in 2000. 

In 2007, it was more of the same in elections in Virginia and New York where Democrats gained control of the Virginia Senate and expanded control in Long Island's Suffolk County. Typical headlines read "In the Ballot Booths, No Fixation on Immigration" (Washington Post) and  "New York Democrats Say License Issue Had Little Effect" (NY Times). As Virginia State Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, who will likely become majority leader in the Virginia Senate, said in an interview:

"The results are proving that, while immigration is a concern to people -- and it should be -- it is not returning the votes that [anti-immigrant leaders] thought that it would."

Despite local agitation over immigration in both states, elections turned on a range of other issues, from taxes to land use policies. Hard-line anti-immigrant candidates generally lost out to candidates who argued more broadly for progressive policies to address the real needs of the public.

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School Voucher Ballot Initiatives Continue Their Perfect Record...of Losing

According to the Associated Press, there have been 11 state referendums, all losing at the polls, on various proposals for publicly-funded school voucher programs since 1972. The latest, in Utah, extended that losing streak. After the state legislature approved a voucher program earlier in the year, opponents took the issue to the ballot where it was rejected by more than 60% of the vote. The program would have been the most comprehensive education voucher program in the country, providing vouchers of $500 to $3,000 depending on income to any family and for each child they choose to send to private school. When fully implemented, the measure would cost taxpayers $430 million, which likely added to the measure's failure in the conservative and tax-averse state. 

Voucher opponents, largely teacher's groups and public education supporters, see the defeat as a win for public education. During the campaign, they argued that the voucher program would siphon sorely needed funds from public schools, pointing out that Utah is 50th in the country for per-pupil spending.

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Wins for the Environment

Rejecting Radical "Takings" Measure: Voters in Oregon overwhelmingly approved Measure 49, which scales back the disastrous Measure 37, one of the misguided eminent domain provisions that have threatened local environmental land use rules and would have potentially cost the state $250 million. Measure 49 makes it easier to build a limited number of homes on rural lands but blocks more extensive development that would have been allowed under Measure 37.

Open Space Initiatives:   Preserving land and expanding recreational areas was a winner at the ballot across the country:

  • Maine approved a $35.5 million bond for land conservation, river restoration and preservation of working waterfronts.
  • New Jersey approved a $200 million measure to provide funds for acquiring land, preserving farmland, and preserving historic preservation projects. 
  • Voters in Boulder County, Colorado, voted to expand the open-space program, allowing extension of its existing open-space tax to buy and preserve trails, pasture and farmland.  Voters also approved up to $40 million of bonds for open-space acquisition and for trail and trailhead projects and land management.
  • Suffolk County in New York passed Proposition 1 authorizing officials to borrow up to $322 million in the next four years to purchase land for open space and drinking water protection.
  • Oyster Bay, New York also approved issuing $30 million in bonds to acquire open spaces and another $30 million in bonds to pay for improvements to that land and other town-owned parkland.

Transit at the Polls:  Dealing with traffic congestion and revitalizing urban transit systems was popular in most areas of the country, but fell short in the Seattle region:

  • In Denver, voters approved $149.8 million for streets, transportation and public works repairs, following votes in earlier years to expand the city's FasTracks light-rail system.
  • Charlotte, North Carolina voters overwhelmingly voted to continue the transit tax. With 70% of voters supporting the measure, the Charlotte Area Transit System will continue collecting a half-cent tax and continue with the expansive transit plan.
  • Votes are still being counted in San Francisco, but voters appear to be supporting a measure to increase funding for public transportation that would also freeze the city's existing limits on parking spaces for new development projects.
  • What would have been the largest transit package in Washington state's history, encompassing both public transportation and 186 miles of highway lanes, was defeated in the Seattle-Puget Sound region, partly because many transit advocates saw it as too focused on traditional highway expansion. 

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A Mixed Day for Health Care Around the Country

Defeat of Kids Health Care in Oregon: By a disheartening 3-to-2 margin, Oregon voters struck down an 84.5-cent increase to the cigarette tax to pay for health coverage for many of the state's 576,000 uninsured children and adults. A rare coalition of labor, insurance companies, hospitals and health care advocates were not able to withstand the $12 million campaign juggernaut financed by the makers of Marlboro and Camel cigarettes. Ironically, companies with a history of marketing directly to children have now gone the extra mile to deny children health care coverage, including treatment for the ill-effects of smoking. 

The ballot measure came about after lawmakers failed earlier this year to muster the 3/5ths majority support in the legislature required for the tax increase to fund Governor Kulongoski's Healthy Kids initiative. The Governor and health care advocates vow to continue the fight, though it isn't clear if the issue will be brought before the legislature's special one-month session in February. 

Stem Cell Measure Fails in New Jersey, But Cancer Funding is Approved in Texas: Voters in New Jersey rejected a plan for the state to borrow $450 million to fund stem cell research over the next ten years. Observers suggest the measure went down due to religious concerns about embryonic research and the state's fiscal status as the nation's fourth most indebted state.  However, New Jersey had previously approved $270 million to build stem cell research facilities. Several other states, including California, Connecticut, Illinois and Maryland are spending huge sums on the promising disease-curing and economic-development-rich research, creating a "healthy" competition among the states.

A vote on medical research in Texas was quite different, however. Bi-partisan support and celebrity-backing from cyclist Lance Armstrong shepherded a $3 billion bond through the electorate to fund cancer research for the next decade. Proposition 15 creates the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute, which will award grants to public and private institutions, universities and medical schools to advance the fight against cancer.

A Win for Mental Health Advocates in New Jersey: In clear recognition that words have power, New Jersey voters passed Question 4 to amend the state constitution by striking the archaic phrase no "idiot or insane person" shall have the right to vote. Instead the constitution will now read, a "person who has been adjudicated by a court of competent jurisdiction to lack the capacity to understand the act of voting" shall not be able to vote. As advocates point out, the demeaning language being removed harkens to when people with mental illness and other disabilities were denied many basic rights, including the right to vote, and referred to with words now recognized as derisive and abusive and which have no place in public laws.

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Most Bond Measures Approved Around the Country, but Washington Voters Remain Tax-Shy

While New Jersey voters rejected their stem cell bond and the Seattle area rejected its transit package, other voters around the country approved funding for a range of proposals:

  • Texas voters approved $9.75 billion in bonds for everything from the cancer research mentioned above to parks, prisons, highways, student loans and water projects. Gov. Perry had originally proposed funding the cancer research proposal through privatizing the state lottery, but the state legislature rejected the idea as fiscally irresponsible, setting the stage for the bond votes.  Separately, Houston area voters approved bonds to fund school renovation and construction.
  • Denver voters approved a package of $550 million infrastructure bond and tax increase proposals to fund the city's museums and other cultural facilities, expand the city's parks, repair streets, and build a new crime lab.
  • Maine approved $134 million in bonds, including its open space proposals, $43.5 million for upgrades in educational institutions, and an innovative $55 million package to fund expanded research and development around the state.

New Jersey voters rejected a proposal that would have diverted a recent sales tax, half of which went to key spending and half to property tax relief, solely to property tax cuts. Unfortunately, Washington voters narrowly supported a right-wing initiative to require a two-thirds vote by the legislature for all tax measures and rejected an initiative that would have allowed school districts to increase revenue by a majority vote -- as opposed to the existing 60% requirement.  Texas also approved a new proposition that limits property assessments to prevent school tax increases of no more than 10% per year. 

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Other Issues

Insurer Accountability in Washington - Referendum 67 asked Washington State voters if they want a new state law, the Insurance Fair Conduct Act, to go into effect as planned.  The Act applies to non-medical insurance, like auto, home, business, and long-term care, and makes it unlawful for insurance companies to unreasonably deny insurance coverage or payment of claims while also allowing consumers to sue for up to triple damages. Washington is reportedly one of 5 states without penalties for insurers that intentionally deny coverage or claims. Despite a record $11.4 million raised by insurance companies to fight the measure, clearer heads prevailed and voters approved Referendum 67 by a 56-44% margin. 

Electoral Reform:  Residents of Aspen, Colorado overwhelmingly approved instant runoff voting (IRV). Aspen residents were joined by voters in Sarasota, FL, 78% of whom voted to adopt IRV. IRV will allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference and if a candidate receives a majority of first choices, he or she is elected. If no one has a clear majority, a series of runoffs are simulated, using each voter's preferences as indicated on the ballot. Voters in Sarasota also capped campaign contributions at $200 and banned corporate giving. In Washington's King County, this year was the last big election until the county switches to all-mail ballots next year. Most counties in the state have already switched to all-mail elections. In fact, about 90% of the votes in Washington are cast by mail. Texas also made it a constitutional requirement that the legislature hold recorded roll call votes on final passage of all laws. In Maine, a pilot project allowing for early voting was deemed a success by elections officials and may soon expand statewide.

Decriminalization of Pot: Voters in Denver, Colorado passed an initiative to make marijuana the city's lowest law enforcement priority. The measure requires the mayor to appoint a panel to monitor how marijuana cases are handled by the policy and city prosecutors and issue a report. Similar measures were passed in Seattle in 2003 and Missoula, Montana last year. Hailey, Idaho passed a similar initiative and also legalized the medical use of marijuana and legalized industrial use of hemp.

SF Municipal Wireless: Voters made it city policy in San Francisco to provide free wireless high-speed Internet through an agreement with a private provider as quickly as possible.

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Special Interests in Ballot Campaigns

As the massive spending by tobacco interests to defeat child care funding for children in Oregon illustrates, the unfortunate reality is that debates on these propositions are often dominated by ads funded not by individual voters but by a range of monied interests.

As a new report by the National Institute on Money in State Politics finds, in 2006 only 23% of the $648 million raised to support or oppose ballot measures came from individuals. And of that 23%, most was given by just 15 people.

Ballot initiatives are intended to be an expression of pure democracy in our system, but the attack ads and distorted information funded by special interests means that corporate interests are too often able to block needed reforms through misleading campaign spending. Ballot initiatives can be a telling indicator of public opinion, but the National Institute's report means that any evaluation of their political meaning has to keep in mind the caveat that they reflect trends in corporate campaign spending as much as real public opinion.

For a more in-depth analysis of the ballot initiatives, the Ballot Initiatives Strategy Center report provides an excellent recap on all the ballot initiatives this year and their results.

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Research Roundup

Good jobs - jobs that pay at least $17 an hour and provide health insurance and a pension -- declined by 3.5 million between 2000 and 2006 according to a new report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.  Key to the decline was the erosion of employer-provided health insurance (down 3.1%) and employer-sponsored pension and retirement-savings plans (down 4.9%).

Confirming previous analysis of the failure of electricity deregulation, Power in the Pubic Interest found in a new study that the electricity costs in deregulated states galloped even further ahead of regulated states, with electricity prices in the deregulating states moving from 35% higher in 1999 to 56% higher than in regulated states.  Consumers in the deregulated states pay almost $48 billion more for their power (in 2006 dollars) than they would pay if they were able to enjoy the average rate of the regulated states.

Please email us leads on good research at


The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Policy Director
J. Mijin Cha, Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Policy Specialist
John Bacino, Communications Associate

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