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Politics By Other Means: Contesting the Future Through Ballot Initiatives

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In the electoral background, sometimes lost behind the loud and often vapid discussions about which candidates to support, there is another politics, a politics not of personalities but of policies: the politics of ballot initiatives and referendums. In many states nationwide this year, some sort of ballot measure — and often several of them — will be voted up or down, and will therefore become law. Issues like environmental protection vs. rampant growth, campaign finance reform, access to healthcare for the poor, gay rights, and school vouchers are all being contested in initiatives across the country.

Throughout the 1980’s and 90’s, many conservative organizations were able to strategically use state ballot measures to advance particular agenda items, to raise funds, to increase conservative voter turnout in key electoral races, and to flex political muscle within the Republican Party. Meanwhile, progressives, playing defense for much of that time, have long wrestled with the question of how to join the substantive battle over issues and organizing in the highly charged arena of ballot-initiative politics.

Today we will meet a veteran of the ballot-initiative wars, Grover Norquist, President of the group Americans For Tax Reform, who have long been using these state measures to try to lower taxes. And we’ll speak with Galen Nelson, the Executive Director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a group that has sought, as their Web site puts it, “to build a new funding, research, and training infrastructure to support progressive ballot measures.” Both groups have played a role in initiating or supporting several key ballot measures this election year, and both of our guests will be watching more than just the presidential and congressional returns next Tuesday night.


  • Galen Nelson, Executive Director of Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, Boston, MA.
  • Grover Norquist, President of Americans For Tax Reform Washington, DC

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