Here’s one last topic that we haven’t paid much attention to in the last few months at SSP, but is of great importance in terms of shaping policy at the state level: major ballot initiatives and referenda. The use of the initiative is in some places, especially in the blue states of the West Coast where Democrats firmly control the legislatures but self-declared initiative kingpins have well-entrenched operations, the right wing’s last means of access to the levers of power. So vigilance is required… and unfortunately, this tends to be one of the few areas where we’re playing defense these days.
The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center reports that there are 153 measures, including 61 initiatives, on the ballot in 35 different states this year. This is actually down from 2004, when there were 162 measures (including 55 initiatives), a year where, in the opinion of some (but certainly not all), the initiatives made all the difference (via the inclusion of anti-gay initiatives in a variety of key swing states to motivate conservative GOTV). Rather than plow through all 153 of them, over the flip let’s focus on some of the ones getting the most attention…
One striking difference from 2004 is that fear of teh gays just doesn’t seem to be cutting it anymore, popping up only in a few states. The big initiative on this front, and probably the biggest of all initiatives this year in terms of media exposure and money spent, is California Proposition 8. This proposes to rewrite the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage (which is currently legal in California, thanks to a May state supreme court decision striking down an older anti-gay marriage initiative). Polling has bounced around all over the place as a blitz of advertising funded by primarily out-of-state money has pushed ‘yes’ (in favor of the ban on same-sex marriage) into the lead in some recent polls. The most recent Field Poll (from today) showed ‘no’ in the lead 49-44, down from a 17-point advantage in September. Troublingly, the majority of those who have already voted or absentee early have voted ‘yes’ (not necessarily what you’d expect, given the large Democratic margins among early votes in many other states, but perhaps explained that many early/absentee voters are older).
The gay marriage issue also makes an appearance in Florida Amendment 2, which seeks to preemptively amend the constitution to ban gay marriage and domestic partnership. This may be a case of overreach in Florida, where many elderly heterosexual couples would benefit from formation of domestic partnerships rather than remarrying, to avoid losing benefits. A South Florida Sun-Sentinel poll today shows 53% support for the measure; however, that’s not enough, as an amendment like this needs 60% support to pass.
Reproductive freedom issues show up in several states. For instance, California Proposition 4 tries once again to impose parental notification limits on abortion access. This measure proposes a ‘judicial bypass’ allowing girls from abusive households to seek judicial permission, but such measures have failed twice before.
South Dakota Measure 11 seeks to resurrect the strict abortion ban that was imposed by the legislature but struck down by citizen initiative in 2006. The replacement for it pretends to be less onerous, with exemptions for rape, incest, and the mother’s health, although exercising any of those involves jumping through multiple bureaucratic hoops. This one will be close: Research 2000 (for Daily Kos) sees ‘no’ (against the ban) winning 44-42, while the Argus-Leader sees a 42-42 tie.
Colorado Amendment 48 paves the way for who-knows-what, by going much further by declaring the ‘personhood’ begins at the moment of conception. This one is turning into a bit of a Waterloo for the anti-abortion forces, as it’s down in the polls by a whopping 68-27 margin. Part of the problem is that many anti-abortion groups like Focus on the Family haven’t gotten behind this, fearing that it goes so far it will be easily struck down by the US Supreme Court and set precedents even more difficult to overcome.
Also at issue is Colorado Amendment 46, one of only a few anti-affirmative action measures pushed by initiative kingpin Ward Connerly that actually made it onto the ballot this year. Connerly’s success at pushing initiatives like this may be dwindling, as establishment figures from governor Bill Ritter to the Denver Chamber of Commerce have piled on against this measure.
On the education front, it’s conservatives vs. the teachers’ unions on a number of fronts; a key example is Oregon Measure 60, an attempt by local initiative entrepreneur Bill Sizemore to impose merit pay on teachers based on classroom performance. A similar measure was rejected by 65% of voters in 2000, however. Oregon Measure 58, also from Sizemore, seeks to impose ‘English only’ requirements and eliminate bilingual education.
Well, it isn’t all bad; there are a few progressive measures here and there. California Proposition 7 is a good example. This measure requires all utilities (not just private electrical companies, who are all subject to this requirement) to generate 20% of their power from renewables by 2010 (and up to 50% by 2025). Unfortunately, this is another race where heavy spending (by state private utilities) seems to be driving numbers the wrong way; while it had 63% in a July Field Poll, the most recent Field Poll sees it failing 39-43. (UPDATE: Several commenters point out that a number of environmental groups are opposed to Prop 7 for being written in a way that excludes small-scale energy producers; see the Calitics explanation. Opposition from the left may explain its sudden decline in popularity.)
The most heated ballot measure in the Evergreen State is Washington Initiative 1000, which proposes to bring physician-assisted suicide (currently legal only in Oregon) to the state. Polls have shown fairly widespread support for this measure, such as SurveyUSA recently giving it 49-32 support.
Montana Initiative 155 is an ambitious plan to provide health care coverage to the state’s uninsured children. Montana has one of the highest rates of uninsured children and big gaps in its SCHIP coverage; this measure proposes to extend coverage to 30,000 kids, partly through an insurance premium tax. Despite the state’s Republican lean, this radical redistributionist initiative is one of the most popular measures anywhere, with recent polling giving it 73% support.
Whew! This barely scratches the surface, but these are 10 of the biggest measures out there. Undoubtedly I’ve left out some measures with some passionate supporters or detractors here, so please feel free to chip in in the comments with what’s big in your state and how the odds of passage are looking.