Progressives Win Big In Ballot Measures Nationwide

WASHINGTON -- Tuesday's elections saw big wins for progressives around the country, who blocked right-wing measures on issues of voting, labor, immigrant and women's rights.

"I think all around, heading into 2012, it's the strongest message we could possibly have that the other side has gone too far," said Justine Sarver, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, of Tuesday's results. She added that it was one of the best elections in recent years for progressive wins on ballot measures, which have traditionally been dominated by conservatives.

The most high-profile fight was in Ohio, where labor unions sought to repeal SB 5, a measure that restricted collective bargaining rights for more than 360,000 public employees, among other provisions.

Democrats, Republicans and independents joined together to deliver a "sharp rebuke" to Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), whose first term has been defined by his support for SB 5. More than 60 percent of Ohio voters rejected Issue 2, which would have kept SB 5 in place.

A humbled Kasich held a press conference shortly after the fate of Issue 2 was sealed, saying it was time for him to take a "deep breath" and think about what to do next.

"When I say it is a time to pause, it is right now, on this issue," he said. "The people have spoken clearly. You don't ignore the public."

In Mississippi, voters rejected a far-reaching "personhood" amendment that would have declared a fertilized egg a legal person under the state Constitution, making it illegal for women in the state to use birth control, among other impacts.

The measure was so extreme that even strong pro-life advocates wavered in their support, with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) saying he wasn't sure if he was going to back it.

Maine voters reinstated the right to register to vote on Election Day, a law that had been in place for four decades until Gov. Paul LePage (R) signed legislation requiring voters to register at least two business days before an election. More than 60 percent of voters rejected the GOP-backed measure, arguing it would serve to depress voter turnout and hamper democracy.

At a more local level, residents of Traverse City, Mich. voted overwhelmingly to keep in place a non-discrimination ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Opponents of the ordinance argued that it singled out LGBT individuals for special protections.

Openly gay and lesbian candidates nationwide also scored big victories on Tuesday. At least 53 of the 75 candidates endorsed by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund won their races. Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Charlotte, N.C. all made history by electing their first openly gay candidates to city council. In Virginia, meanwhile, "Adam Ebbin became the first openly gay person elected to the State Senate, and in New Jersey, Tim Eustace became the first non-incumbent openly gay candidate to win a seat in the State Assembly," Gay Politics reported.

In addition, two prominent Republican state lawmakers were voted out of office in recall elections. Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce (R), the controversial architect of Arizona's immigration law, was defeated by Jerry Lewis, a fellow Republican who does not support the immigration crackdown. Pearce was the top Republican in the state Senate.

In Michigan, state Rep. Paul Scott (R) lost his seat in a close recall election. As chairman of the House Education Committee, Scott "was targeted by the Michigan Education Association for policies that weakened teacher tenure and cut education funding," according to the Associated Press. Republican lawmakers, Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, a Democrat who has battled teachers unions, all supported his policies.

While Mississippi voted down the "personhood" measure, the state did approve a proposed constitutional amendment that would require voters to show photo identification at the polls. Ohio voters also approved a largely symbolic measure meant to object to federal health care reform. The official language on the ballot said it would "preserve the freedom of Ohioans to choose their health care and health care coverage."

Republicans also gained seats in the Virginia legislature, and were "on the verge of taking over the Virginia Senate on Tuesday night and clinching control of all of state government for only the second time in more than a century." Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) said it was "a very good night for Republicans in Virginia."

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