Not many people took part in the elections that happened across the country on Tuesday — turnout was even more dismal than usual, and in the United States, the participation numbers are never too comforting — but those few voters who decided to cast ballots often pushed for bold changes and a few firsts, while others decided to side with the status quo.
Let’s take a brief tour of some of the results.
Republicans continue to gain territory in the South.
In Kentucky, tea-party businessman Matt Bevin — who said “Kentucky is the crown jewel in the crown of America” last night — won a surprisingly big victory in his gubernatorial race, becoming only the second Republican to run the state in 40 years. He plans to dismantle the state’s Obamacare infrastructure and make Kentucky a right-to-work state. In Mississippi, the Democratic gubernatorial primary was such a snooze that a truck driver who didn’t even bother campaigning managed to win. He, unsurprisingly, lost spectacularly in the general. Republicans won all of the open seats in Mississippi State Legislature races and now hold 73 of the 122 spots in the State House, according to the Clarion-Ledger. Although Governor Terry McAuliffe and several groups spent lots of time or big money trying to help Democratic State Senate candidates in Virginia, the GOP kept its majority. In Houston, an LGBT nondiscrimination initiative — endorsed by President Obama and Hillary Clinton — also failed. Voters in Portland, Maine rejected a $15 minimum wage.
The win in Kentucky also probably has Senator Rand Paul feeling better about his chance of keeping his seat if this presidential-bid thing doesn’t work out. He told the Washington Post last night, “What this election shows is that people who’ve been promoting Democrats on the rise in Kentucky have been completely wrong. Not only has President Obama destroyed the party in Kentucky, he’s destroyed the bench. The bench that was supposed to rise up and run for office — that’s gone.”
After the rolling losses of the 2014 midterms, Democrats probably didn’t need another reminder of how voters trend conservative in non-presidential election years. They got one anyway. However, Tuesday’s results shouldn’t be seen as a forecast for what might happen in 2016, when candidates will probably face a far more ideologically and demographically diverse bunch than the group that cast ballots yesterday. Complicating matters even more for the GOP — which probably feels very confident after all the big wins it has tallied in the past year — is the fact that the senators up for reelection happened to have last been on a ballot in 2010, the year that the tea party blossomed into an electoral force. It may not be as easy to get reelected when they face a broader assortment of voters.
That fight, however, is a year from now. Right now Republicans have nothing but confirmation that their Southern and rural empire is all-encompassing.
Democrats get slight pick-me-ups in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The party solidified its majority in the New Jersey State Assembly after at least three incumbent GOP legislators lost reelection. Democrats in the state — plus a few outside groups — spent gobs of money on the races and made sure to mention Governor Chris Christie, whose popularity is flagging as his low-key presidential bid drags on, at every opportunity.
In Pennsylvania, Democrats won all three open seats on the State Supreme Court, which means that the party will have a majority in the court for at least a decade, as each justice is elected to a ten-year term. The GOP has held the court majority for the past six years, according to The Morning Call. Last week, Philadelphia Magazine called the race “absolutely crucial” and “one that could have far-reaching consequences for everything from school funding, to gun control to the political balance of power in Harrisburg.”
The race was also an obscene money magnet. It was reportedly the most expensive Supreme Court election ever, with outside groups and candidates spending at least $15.8 million.
San Francisco sides with Airbnb.
Start-up Airbnb spent nearly $7 million fighting Proposition F, a ballot initiative that would have regulated the $25 billion tech company in the place it calls home. TV ads and billboards promoting the company — along with volunteers going door to door to talk to voters — were unavoidable for weeks.
In the end, Airbnb won the vote of 55 percent of voters; affordable-housing advocates and other groups that backed the initiative — which would have stopped Airbnb hosts from renting out units more than 75 days a year — won the support of 45 percent of voters. Proposition F supporters raised less than $1 million to help push the issue. However, as Re/code notes, Airbnb is probably going to have to keep fighting these battles over and over again — just like ever-expanding Uber.
The risk for Airbnb is that winning in San Francisco is really a pyrrhic victory; if it demonstrates that it’s willing to pour millions of dollars into waging ugly political fights, activists elsewhere may try their luck on the ballot or in political arenas.
Dale Carlson, co-founder of the pro-Proposition F group ShareBetter, says that his team has “had conversations with both elected and community leaders all over the country. They’re wrestling with the same phenomenon. It is conceivable there could be a number of ballot initiatives in a number of cities around the U.S. next year,” Carlson said. “Instead of Airbnb spending $12 million, it could be $100 million.”
Proposition I, an initiative that would have put an 18-month moratorium on permits for market-rate housing-development projects in the Mission District — what The Wall Street Journal called “The ‘Techies Are Gentrifying the Mission Too Quickly’ Initiative” — also failed.
Ohio says “no, thanks” to the idea of Nick Lachey, pot baron.
To quote another boy band, “bye, bye, bye,” legalized weed. The state did approve an initiative fighting against monopolies and another initiative that seeks to make the redistricting process for State Legislature seats less partisan.
Michigan says “no, thanks” to the idea of giving legislators back the jobs they just got forced out of.
Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, who will likely win the honor of being involved in 2015’s weirdest state-politics scandal, will not be returning to the Michigan State House after basically being kicked out only a few weeks ago. Courser, who started a fake rumor that he paid for sex with a male prostitute outside of a bar in Lansing in order to hide another scandal, won less than 4 percent of the vote in his GOP primary. Gamrat, the tea-party colleague he was having an affair with, won 9 percent of the vote in her primary.
In the immortal words of Shepard Smith, “Politics is weird, and creepy, and now I know lacks even the loosest attachment to anything like reality.” However, thanks to democracy, voters always have the right to establish how much of this weirdness they are willing to permit.
Bridgeport — the biggest city in Connecticut — decided it was willing to deal with more weirdness than most when it decided to elect a former mayor who spent seven years in prison after being convicted on 16 federal corruption charges, including bribery, extortion, and racketeering. Joseph Ganim previously served as mayor from 1991 to 2003. “Tonight, we not only made history, we’ve defined a new course for this great city,” he said on Tuesday, according to the New York Times. “Some will call this a comeback story, but for me, this is a city I feel I never left. I never stopped caring.”
Campaign finance reform wins on both coasts.
In Maine, 55 percent of voters supported Question 1, which opens up more public financing cash for candidates — and forces outside groups to list their three top donors on ads. The “democracy vouchers” initiative in Seattle, which gives each voter a chance to “donate” $100 to a campaign every cycle, also passed.
Jackie Biskupski becomes Utah’s first openly gay mayor.
The former state legislator won about 52 percent of the vote in Salt Lake City. When she was first elected in 1998, she became the first openly gay elected official in the state.
According to Gallup, Utah is the fourth-most-conservative state in the country — although, of course, urban Salt Lake City is more diverse and liberal than the mostly rural region surrounding it. State Senator Jim Dabakis, who is also an openly gay politician in Utah, said on Tuesday, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, “Generations of LGBT people could’ve only dreamed of this. Jackie is now an iconic gay leader. This is a great moment for Salt Lake City — we’re not the stereotype people across the country think we are.”
Washington voters signal that lion killers are not welcome.
More than 70 percent of voters supported Initiative 1401. According to the Associated Press, the law bans “the purchase, sale, and distribution of parts or products made from 10 endangered animals: lions, elephants, rhinos, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, marine turtles, pangolins, sharks and rays. Offenders could face a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.”
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen spent nearly $2 million pushing the initiative.
Stuart Halsan, former state legislator and chair of the Legal Ivory Rights Coalition, is probably not too happy. He told the AP, “I’ve received several phone calls from people with ivory artifacts that are old asking ‘how can I sell them? And I’ve said: don’t hold your breath.”