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.
Many states have provisions designed to limit the amount of taxes their legislatures can raise, but only Colorado has gone so far as to pass the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Known as TABOR, Colorado’s unique constellation of confusing laws prevents the state legislature from raising taxes without public approval and caps the amount the government can spend in a way that’s designed to shrink it over time. All levels of government—city, county, and state—are limited in what they can spend by a complicated formula, which basically indexes revenue to inflation plus population growth. If the tax revenues the state and local governments collect in any given year are higher than the cap, which happens in good economic times or when there is an influx of new residents, states and cities are required by law to refund taxpayers. Over the years, more than 80 cities have passed local referendums to relieve their governments from some of the burdens of TABOR. Last week, Denver voters passed, by a margin of 74 percent to 26 percent, a referendum that allows the city to keep the surplus money it has already collected and spend it. The referendum they voted for is called “de-Brucing,” named after the law’s anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce. (On the state level, a de-Brucing referendum passed in 2005.) The city argued that without de-Brucing, it would no longer be able to provide basic city services; it hadn’t trained a new firefighter or police officer class in four years.
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.
If you want to explain why your party lost a presidential election, there are a number of places to look. You can blame your candidate and his campaign (which usually means, "If only they had listened to me!"). You can blame your party and ask if it should examine its ideology or its rhetoric. You can blame the media. Or you can blame the voters. As the old political saw says, "The people have spoken—the bastards." And that is what one conservative after another has been saying over the last week.
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.
Over the past 15 years, California’s electorate has changed so dramatically and so quickly that Democrats have often won victories they weren’t even anticipating. In 1998, no one expected Gray Davis to win the governor’s office by 20 percentage points, and the tightly wound Davis, who had no life outside politics, was plainly bewildered by his own emotions during his victory speech on the night of the landslide. This week, no one expected the Democrats to win two-thirds of the seats in the state Assembly (they did expect to win that many in the state Senate, which they did), yet the Democrats won those seats going away. As California law requires a two-thirds vote in both legislative houses to raise any taxes, the Republicans have long used their just-over-one-third representation in those houses to block all tax increases, decimating the state’s schools, colleges, and parks in the process. Now, the Democrats have finally overcome that hurdle—and have become the first party with two-thirds representation in both houses since 1933.
This is a hard time, I know. We've all been there—it hurts when your candidate loses, and you realize that all the people and policies you hate will be in place for the next four years. But let me suggest that while you're perfectly justified in crying, wailing, beating your breasts and rending your garments, you really should try to keep your sanity. Not only will it be good for the country, it'll be good for you too.
Mitt Romney and Lincoln Chafee have surprisingly similar family backgrounds, both the product of prominent Republican households. Their fathers governed states as Rockefeller Republicans—George Romney in Michigan, John Chafee in Rhode Island—then served together in Richard Nixon's cabinet. The sons followed their fathers' molds as moderate Northeastern Republicans to great success a decade ago. Romney became the governor of Massachusetts in 2002 and Chafee replaced his father in the Senate, each serving one term in their respective roles.
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.
David Walker announced his endorsement of Mitt Romney this week. The name might not ring a bell, but Walker was head of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the number one funder of deficit-hawkery in the United States. Walker, a former Comptroller General, has described himself and his crusade as bipartisan, and it is actually helpful that he has come out of the closet as a Republican.
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.
Is the Tea Party dead and gone? To a great degree the answer is yes. There are no longer any Republicans with national ambitions, and precious few with even local ambitions, who will proclaim themselves Tea Partiers (Mitt Romney was smart enough to see this coming, so he carefully avoided saying "I'm a Tea Partier" on tape, though he certainly expressed his agreement with their views). The movement has come to be associated with extremism and recklessness, particularly after Tea Partiers in Congress forced a showdown over the debt limit that let to a downgrading of the nation's credit rating. The Tea Party has also become synonymous with a particular brand of Republican politician, those ideologues so dumb and uninformed they barely realize how crazy their views are. This started in 2010 with the likes of Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell, continued through the briefly successful presidential candidacy of Michele Bachmann, and can now be seen with Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.
But does that mean the Tea Party was a failure? E. J. Dionne says it was, and the evidence can be seen in the Romney campaign...
(AP Photo/The The Hutchinson News, Travis Morisse, File)
The fifth in a Prospect series on the 174 ballot measures up for a vote this November.
Across the country, most voter-ID wars have unfolded in legislative chambers and courtrooms. But in Minnesota, a whole new battleground has opened as voters decide whether to put a photo ID-requirement into the state constitution.
The constitutional amendment passed through the Republican-controlled legislature, but was foiled by a veto from Democratic Governor Mark Dayton. Now, it's up to voters to decide whether they want to put new burdens on themselves and fellow voters.
It is widely assumed that partisanship, particularly of the rabid variety, is detrimental to the political process and harms our democracy. I believe this is naive and not borne out by the evidence. Partisanship is responsible for the “dysfunction of Washington,” to use the current popular pejorative, and polls have recorded as much as 80% of the electorate dissatisfied with Congress. This figure is not easily obtained.
According a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, the partisan gap has almost doubled since George W. Bush’s presidency through Barak Obama’s. America is becoming more partisan, if that is possible. Incumbent senators and congressmen have worked extremely hard for this and have forged a difficult alliance to reach this goal. This alliance is often overlooked by ideologues, but obviously, though appearing tacit, is the stabilizing influence in our political process.
The fourth in a Prospect series on the 174 initiatives and referendums up for a vote this November.
In March, the Georgia Department of Education released an in-depth report showing that students in the state's charter schools perform worse than those in traditional schools. You might have thought such a conclusion would prompt lawmakers to at least pause on a constitutional amendment creating a new state agency specifically to create new charters. Instead, a week later, the Georgia Senate passed it with the required two-thirds majority. Voters will determine the amendment's fate this November, deciding whether charter schools should be drastically expanded at the expense of the traditional districts.