In addition to the closely watched House and Senate races, 200 ballot initiatives were decided across the country on Tuesday. Among them, in South Dakota voters rejected a ballot measure that would have banned nearly all abortions in the state. Voters in Missouri approved a measure backing stem cell research. We discuss some of the state-wide ballot initiatives with the executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. [includes rush transcript]
In addition to the closely watched House and Senate races, 200 ballot initiatives were decided across the country on Tuesday. In South Dakota voters rejected a ballot measure that would have banned nearly all abortions in the state. Voters in Missouri approved a measure backing stem cell research. Seven states passed bans on same sex marriage. In Arizona, voters rejected a ban on gay marriage but approved making English the state’s official language. Five states approved minimum wage increases. Michigan also passed a measure banning some types of affirmative action. We’ll have more on the ballot initiatives later in the show. To discuss these ballot initiatives, Kristina Wilfore joins us in Washington. She is the Executive Director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.
- Kristina Wilfore, Executive Director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.
AMY GOODMAN: We now turn to Kristina Wilfore in Washington, D.C., executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. Welcome to Democracy Now!
KRISTINA WILFORE: Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, why don’t you summarize for us the significance of — well, even the number, was it something like 200 ballot initiatives?
KRISTINA WILFORE: 205.
AMY GOODMAN: Unprecedented?
KRISTINA WILFORE: No. What was unusual was the amount of ballot initiatives, in particular. So there were 79 measures that were citizen-petitioned initiatives, and that was the third largest year for initiatives since the process started in 1904.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s start off by talking about minimum wage. What happened?
KRISTINA WILFORE: Okay. Well, minimum wage is a huge victory story of the election cycle, one, because it garnered such attention and, two, because it probably made a margin of difference in some of the key Senate races, in that it was the first time that the left said, "You know what? The conservatives don’t have a copyright on values issues, and in fact the minimum wage is our moral issue." And we took it from a dry economic issue to something that said, "This is a statement of our values. It’s just wrong that you should work full-time and hard and live in poverty, and Congress hasn’t acted." And you had Republican incumbents who had years and years of records of votes against increasing the minimum wage, and that just didn’t sit well with many Americans in six states.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the stem cell research constitutional amendment.
KRISTINA WILFORE: It’s a little bit misunderstood. You know, this is being put in the category of a Democratic turnout ploy. And it was really backed and funded by a bipartisan group of biotech engineers and others who want to do stem cell research in Missouri. I think it’s an amazing victory, and it is an indication that, again, conservatives are on the wrong side of this issue. They’re out of step with the majority of Americans who believe that we need to do research to save lives.
You know, one of the interesting arguments that really came down to it potentially being defeated was over the issue of whether this would allow cloning. And the initiative, in fact, specifically in the language said, "This does not allow cloning." But you had Jim Talent and you had the opposition dominating the airwaves and the chatter on the ground, saying that this would allow cloning. And it wouldn’t. Frankly, they were just opposed to embryonic stem cell research, and they were going to say anything they could to defeat it. And we saw that that wasn’t good enough. It didn’t work.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that the whole Michael J. Fox, the ad that he did supporting stem cell research, he himself dealing with Parkinson’s — you could see him shaking as he did this ad — and the Missouri native, Rush Limbaugh, attacking him, actually mocking his tremors, actually helped the initiative?
KRISTINA WILFORE: Yeah, it showed Limbaugh and his cronies in their true colors. You know, to take someone who has a serious medical issue, and all they want to do is be healthy, all they want to do is to benefit from the research that United States scientists are the best at, is shameful. But it’s a good thing that we have a vote in place now, and we have the ability to do embryonic stem cell research. And we can quit having, you know, a ridiculous confusion of issues, and Missouri can move forward and be a leader in the nation on this important research.
AMY GOODMAN: Kristina Wilfore, what about what happened in South Dakota? This was very hotly contested, the law that was passed, signed off on by the governor, that would basically ban abortion.
KRISTINA WILFORE: I’ve got to say, as a longtime progressive activist and someone who — really I first cut my teeth in politics on working on pro-choice and protecting reproductive freedom. I am so proud of what South Dakota did, that they rejected this overreach. It was a pushback to an extreme, extreme measure that would have virtually banned all abortions. And let’s be clear, South Dakota is a very conservative state. This is a deep red state. And to have them say, "This goes too far, we reject this," is incredibly important for the future of our debates around reproductive choice.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the other initiatives, for example, same-sex marriage bans around the country. Do you think it was used in the same way as the last election to get people, perhaps religious evangelical fundamentalists, to come out to the vote who wouldn’t have come out, especially now, given all the scandals?
KRISTINA WILFORE: Well, for one, we should do the research, and that’s what the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center does, actually post election research to try to isolate for the effect of both conservative and progressive ballot measures. What we know in the past, and it’s sort of unconventional wisdom, but in 2004 these measures did not prove to actually turn out an increased voter participation of the Christian right. And I know that that goes against sort of what we’ve read over the last two years. But in Ohio, in particular, where it could have affected the presidential, we found that it did not have an increase in voting. Now, it did have a priming effect, what political scientists call, where those who did show up were more likely to vote for conservative candidates.
Well, we fast-forward to 2006, and what we really saw was a lack of energy, a lack of enthusiasm overall about these ballot measures, even though the majority of them passed. But you can look at Wisconsin. They had more religious leaders organized against the ban on same-sex marriage than the other side had on theirs. So they really lost their mobilizing mojo this year. And you can even look at Virginia, where you had Webb opposed to the ban, and Senator — or not-Senator —- Allen supporting it, you know, and the measure passed there. Well, so did Webb win. So did it impact him in a negative way? It doesn’t appear so. What we can really -—
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll see if he won. It’s still contested right now, but he does seem to be ahead. Let me ask you very quickly, because we only have a few minutes, the anti-affirmative action measure that actually passed in Michigan, what is it?
KRISTINA WILFORE: Well, it’s very disappointing. It does provide a strict interpretation of affirmative action on universities and government services. And it’s unfortunate. You had a bipartisan coalition opposed to it. It might be interesting to note that the only supporter publicly, organizationally, of this very extreme measure was the Ku Klux Klan. You know, so we still have a lot of problems in our country around race.
AMY GOODMAN: The anti-immigrant measures in Arizona, and among them, the one passing that would make English the state’s official language.
KRISTINA WILFORE: Right. The ballot measures on immigration are more about punishing immigrants than coming up with solutions, so it’s an unfortunate set of issues. But before we leave Arizona, I really want to point out the victory on rejecting the ban on same-sex marriage. This is an incredible, incredible victory, and one that really shows us a blueprint for how we fight back on discrimination.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for joining us, Kristina Wilfore, joining us from Washington, D.C. She is the director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, known as BISC.