Executive Director, Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.
On Tuesday, voters in thirty-seven states will confront 160 ballot initiatives on issues ranging from healthcare reform to reproductive rights, to rights to unionize, to climate change legislation. For a summary of these initiatives, we talk with Justine Sarver, the executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: On November 2nd, voters in thirty-seven states will confront 160 ballot initiatives, on issues ranging from healthcare reform to reproductive rights to climate change.
One of the hottest battlegrounds is in California, where voters will decide Prop 23, a measure that would suspend implementation of the state’s 2006 groundbreaking clean air legislation that requires greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020. Prop 23’s key financial backers are two Texas-based oil giants, Valero Energy and Tesoro Corporation, along with billionaires Charles and David Koch. Another hot-button ballot initiative in California is Prop 19, where voters weigh whether to legalize recreational marijuana use.
Meanwhile, four states — Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah — are featuring ballot initiatives designed to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act, the congressional legislation that would give workers more freedom in choosing when and how to unionize.
At least three states — Arizona, Colorado and Oklahoma — have initiatives that are seeking to block healthcare reform and would reject the individual mandate to purchase insurance.
And in several states, access to women’s healthcare is back on the ballot — for example, Colorado Amendment 62, designed to give constitutional rights to a woman’s fertilized egg.
For more, we go to Washington, DC, where we’re joined by Justine Sarver, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.
Why don’t you first give us the scope of these initiatives and talk about what’s most hotly contested around the country, Justine.
JUSTINE SARVER: OK. Thank you for having me.
So, we start out looking at what we’re all grappling with this year, I think, is the economy. And states have been grappling with how to, you know, close big budget gaps in their state budgets. And so, we’ve seen, you know, over the past couple of years state legislatures passing taxes to help fill some of the holes. So when we look at Washington State, California, Massachusetts and Colorado, there are definitely some trends to watch around how the local governments are functioning and how people are going to support public education and healthcare in their states.
So, in Washington and in California, you see large corporations trying to influence the policy-making process. That is, in Washington State, Initiative 1107, which is put on the ballot by the American Beverage Association, and they put $17 million into an account there to try to repeal a soda and candy tax, that was passed by the state legislature. And so, we see, you know, in a period of large income inequality, these initiative trends where corporations are influencing the policy-making process to continue profits. You mentioned Prop 23, Amy, in California and with Tesoro and Valero putting in, you know, all of this money to repeal a wildly popular initiative in a very environmentally friendly state, in California. It’s amazing that it’s just a blatant profit grab.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk more about the proposed Washington state income tax that would be — that’s on the ballot?
JUSTINE SARVER: Yeah, Initiative 1098. One of — this is an initiative that would create a state income tax in Washington State. It would also cut taxes for middle-class folks in Washington. So, something that I think may have been lost in the debate is that, you know, for earners that make over $200,000 or $400,000 per household, there would be an income tax created, but there would be large tax breaks for people who earn under that amount. And it’s a very interesting debate. You know, a lot of states already have income taxes. This is something that’s been an ongoing debate in Washington State for many years.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting, Katrina vanden Heuvel in The Nation writes, Bill Gates, Sr., father of Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, sees 1098 as "a way to rescue the state’s public school system. Washington State ranks 47th out of the fifty states in terms of monetary support for the public school system."
Let me go on to another issue, Justine, and that is these reproductive rights initiatives, like in Colorado, the Colorado Fetal Personhood, Amendment 62.
JUSTINE SARVER: Yes. So, what’s really interesting, I believe, about sort of the right-wing movement to control women’s reproductive freedom through ballot initiatives is that they have not been successful. The trend over many years has been that voters, time and time again, just see this as something that shouldn’t be legislated. And this initiative in Colorado was on the ballot in 2008, and Coloradans voted it down almost three to one. So it’s very interesting that it’s back. And I think that means that it’s just a very ideological person in Colorado who, you know, believes that this is another chance to control women’s reproductive freedom through the ballot box.
AMY GOODMAN: How has Citizens United affected the whole ballot and referendum process in the country?
JUSTINE SARVER: Well, you know, again, I think that when we talk about how corporations are participating in this election, you see it — I mean, I think you see an emboldened corporate atmosphere in terms of, you know, these ballot initiatives, especially Tesoro and Valero, American Beverage Association. In Washington State, there’s also this attempt by the largest insurance companies in the country to privatize the workers’ compensation system there. That’s Initiative 1082. And so, we’re definitely seeing a lot of, you know, large amounts of money going into initiatives that could increase profits for corporate CEOs.
AMY GOODMAN: Interesting, in Washington, also privatizing workers’ comp, the Washington Workers’ Comp Insurance Reform Initiative 1082.
JUSTINE SARVER: Yes, exactly. And, you know, this is one of those things that I think when people have to make a decision, and if you — this is why we advocate for more transparency in the initiative process. If you read the ballot language on some of these initiatives, it just becomes very clear that, you know, it’s hard for people to make decisions on things that, you know, read very — there’s very difficult language involved in what’s going on here, but when people boil it down, I think they’re going to see that these are schemes created by corporations to increase profits there.
AMY GOODMAN: Justine Sarver, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. We’ll be checking back with you after the elections to see what happened. Thanks for joining us from Washington, DC.
JUSTINE SARVER: Thank you, Amy.