10 Bright Spots in the Election


While the political pendulum swung far to the right on Election Day, with Republicans winning a U.S. Senate majority, holding governorships and slowing the leftward tilt of states like Colorado and North Carolina, there were less-publicized victories for progressives—especially on ballot measures, where people voted on ideas and not on a candidate’s ties to President Obama.

If there is any silver lining to 2014's midterm elections, it is seen in these mostly local votes that reflect progressive values—even if those same voters sent rightwing lawmakers to Washington and back into governor's mansions. Without trying to explain that contradiction, let’s look at a ten victories that suggest Americans haven't entirely abandoned a progressive agenda.

1. Minimum wage increases. The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour for years—and it is third of that for tipped workers. But states can raise it, and some states allow its cities to do likewise. Four red states passed minimum wage increases, from $8.50 in Arkansas by 2017 (where its Democratic U.S. Senator lost his re-election), to $9.75 in Alaska by 2016. South Dakota and Nebraska also raised their minimum wage. Wisconsin voters (who re-elected their rightwing governor) also passed a non-binding measure calling for a $10 wage. At the city level, San Francisco passed a $15 wage by 2018, and nearby Oakland passed $12.50 by 2015. It is estimated that more than 600,000 workers will benefit from these increases.

2. Paid Sick Leave. The other big demand of low-wage workers, especially in fast food jobs, is paid sick leave. On this front, while Massachusetts’ voters elected a Republican governor, they also passed a ballot measure guaranteeing paid sick leave to an estimated 1 million workers. In local voters in three cities, voters did likewise: Trenton, New Jersey; Montclair, New Jersey; and Oakland, California, where the vote expands a state paid sick leave law. The third state that has paid sick leave is Connecticut, as do New York City and Portland, Oregon.    

3. Abortion rights upheld. Here again, voters in two states that sent right-wingers to the Senate strongly rejected so-called personhood measures that would have granted legal rights to fertilized eggs. Colorado voter for the third federal election in a row to reject “personhood,” as did nearly two-thirds of North Dakota voters. Three years ago, Mississippi also rejected personhood.

But Tennessee voters added amended their state constitution to explicitly say that it does not protect abortion rights, which does not change current law but could be used to enact future restrictions..

4. Gun control expanded. Every so often the National Rifle Association loses a big gun control fight and that’s exactly what happened in Washington where 60 percent of voters passed a ballot measure extending background checks to all gun sales and transfers. It contained exceptions for transfers between family members and temporary loans for sporting or self-defense purposes. The state has seen some ferocious gun-control fights, such as 1994 election where then-House Speaker Tom Foley lost his seat after being attacked him for passing two gun laws. Meanwhile, in Colorado and Connecticut two Democratic governors who had passed gun control laws after the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting were re-elected.

5. Prison sentencing reform. In 2012, California voters repealed a portion of its notorious “three strikes” law, which sent anyone to prison for life if they committed three felonies—by making that apply only to violent crimes. On Tuesday, Californians voted to shorten the prison sentences of people convicted in non-violent crimes by reclassifying them from felonies to misdemeanors. The state has a longstanding prison-overcrowding crisis, and the vote is expected to reduce jail time for an estimated 10,000 people. In New Jersey, voters approved a ballot measure that reforms bail laws that kept people behind bars while awaiting court action, including for drug violations.

This story was originally published on AlterNet.

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