At first glance, the 2012 elections didn’t seem to have much bearing on education policies. After all, the fundamental debates around schools—whether to increase the role of testing, merit pay, charter schools, and school choice—are, for the most part, outside the realm of partisan politics. Among both Democratic and Republican leadership, there’s a fair amount of consensus in the self-proclaimed reform agenda, which seeks to make schools more like a marketplace and relies on testing to offer metrics for success. It’s the one area where the parties seem to agree.
In the Empire State, winning elections doesn’t always translate into power it seems. Next year, Democrats will likely have a majority of seats in the state’s upper chamber. But they aren’t likely to control it. It’s one of the stranger outcomes of the latest election.
Liberals had a lot to celebrate on election night, from the outcome of the presidential race to a number of major Senate wins. But less noticed on the whole was the stunning display of progressive power in ballot measures across the country. From gay marriage to marijuana legalization, from teachers unions to school funding, voters on the whole supported a progressive agenda in the 2012 election. State policy not only carries major implications for the lives of state residents, it also helps set the stage for national debates on issues. In a number of states, voters were deciding the direction of public education; in others, the fate of union power. Election night brought some big victories for liberals, albeit with a few defeats.
After the Republicans swept to power in state legislatures across the country in 2010, the situation for state-level Democrats couldn't get much worse. The Grand Old Party won control of 21 house and senate chambers, and gained supermajorities in several states. Progressive and independent-leaning states like Maine and Minnesota were suddenly dominated by conservative legislators.
It's made for a great narrative: Tuesday night, female candidates prevailed in nearly all the tightest, most-watched Senate races around the country. A historic number of women will now serve in the upper chamber, once the boysiest of boys' clubs. If that wasn't enough to prompt some girl-power cheering, there was the news out of New Hampshire that, with the election of Maggie Hassan to the state's top executive spot, the governor, senators, and congressional representatives now all carry XX chromosomes.
Sean Barry showed up at the same polling place in Mount Airy, Pennsylvania, where he cast his ballot for Barack Obama in 2008. But when he got there, the poll workers informed him that his name was nowhere to be found on the voter rolls. They also told him he wasn’t alone; other regular voters had arrived only to find their names missing. All of them had to submit provisional ballots. Allegations of an illegal voter purge were already swirling, and Barry felt uneasy. “I feel unsteady about my vote being counted,” he said. But in the end, with or without Barry’s vote, Obama won Pennsylvania easily.
The trouble with democracy is you gotta represent the crazies too. And nowhere does that better than state legislatures. In these so-called "laboratories of democracy," the range of experience and IQ are about about as wide as, well, those of the general population. This year, with just about everyone's eyes on the presidential race, state legislative coverage is particularly scanty. The "D" or "R" (or "G" or "L" or "I") beside a candidate's name goes a long way in determining whether they win, and can matter a lot more than some op-ed they might have written a few years back. Even so, you'd think there might be some limits (besides being a convicted felon, I mean) to what candidates can say or do and still get support.
Earlier this year, the outlook for voting rights was downright terrifying. Across the country, Republican legislatures had passed strict voter-ID laws, which reports showed could disenfranchise millions of voters. The political motives were clear: The people most likely to be without ID are poor and of color—groups that tend to vote for Democrats. By the summer, there was another threat to voter participation: purges of voter rolls.
It's no secret that the presidential race could come down to Ohio. The Buckeye State has loomed large for months, and word is, both Romney and Obama will be in Columbus on Election Night. According to Nate Silver, there’s a nearly 50-percent chance that the state will determine the election outcome. All eyes seem to be there—when WaPo’s The Fix shifted it from “leans Democratic” to “toss up” yesterday on the electoral map, half the internet seemed to respond with either cheers or jeers.
This is the eighth in the Prospect's series on the 174 measures on state ballots this year.
It’s been a bad year for California unions. Republicans have never been fans of the labor movement, and now state Democratic support is waning. In September, Democratic Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a pension reform plan that will force union members to work longer for fewer benefits, and vetoed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, an AFL-CIO-backed bill that would have given labor rights to domestic workers. And earlier this month, Brown vetoed a bill that would have allowed child care workers to unionize. In cities like San Jose and Los Angeles—both Democrat-leaning cities with Democratic mayors—unions are fighting more losing battles against pension reform.
In this election, state unions were forced to open a new front—at the ballot box. California ballot Proposition 32 puts labor in even deeper trouble, and could leave the movement effectively silenced. And even if labor kills the measure, it will still come with huge costs to other campaigns in the state.
Quick—who's your state legislator? If you're like most people, you have no idea. (If you do know, well la-dee-da!)
State legislative races don't usually get much attention, and in a big presidential year, they're lucky to get any. But who runs the legislature is crucial in setting policy. Two years ago, when Tea Party fervor swept across the nation, Republicans knocked Democrats out of power in 21 state House and Senate chambers. Twenty states had Republicans in charge of the Senate, House, and governor's mansion concurrently. The impact was swift. These new majorities slashed social programs and weakened reproductive rights. They passed new voter-ID laws and anti-union measures.
This is the seventh in the Prospect's series on the 174 measures on state ballots this year.
Ever since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed, Republicans have been desperate for ways to gut it. They hoped the Supreme Court might do the dirty work, but the Court ruled this summer that the law was constitutional. They hoped to pass new legislation, but as long as Democrats have the White House and the Senate, that's a non-starter. So instead, for the time being, they are turning to purely symbolic acts of defiance.
Between checking The Weather Channel and dashing out to buy new batteries for flashlights, most folks along the Eastern Seaboard are already hunkered down in preparation for the Storm, a.k.a. Frankenstorm, a.k.a. Hurricane Sandy. Making their way to the polls is probably not at the top of anyone's list.
But thousands of elections officials and campaign workers—not to mention the Romney and Obama campaigns—have had their well-laid plans turned upside down, at least for the next couple of days. Four battleground states will feel some of the storm's brunt—Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and New Hampshire.
Ohio's Republican secretary of state, Jon Husted, has been under fire now for months from Democrats. They’re angry, particularly, about his moves to limit early voting hours across the state—especially those on the weekend before the election. Poor and minority voters rely on the expanded hours. Black churches have used the last Sunday before election day to bring voters to the polls; low-income voters often have inflexible work schedules and childcare demands at home. After a lengthy court battle, Husted has now authorized county election boards to offer hours in the three days before election day. But he did limit early voting hours in the weeks before, with fewer evening hours and no weekend hours.