The latest local and state elections results suggest that voters have second thoughts about the tea party’s political agenda. Consider the following:
• In Ohio, unions scored a victory.
Voters elected tea party-backed John Kasich as their Republican governor last year. One of his most prominent initiatives was legislation limiting public employees’ collective bargaining rights. Opponents collected 1.3 million signatures to subject his anti-bargaining bill to a referendum. On Nov. 8, Ohioans overwhelmingly voted to repeal Kasich’s bill, which they rejected by 61 percent to 39 percent.
• In Mississippi, reproductive rights prevailed.
Anti-choice advocates had put a referendum on the ballot to define life as beginning at conception. Their so-called “personhood” proposal would not only have prohibited abortion in cases of rape and incest, but also would have threatened criminal penalties for use of many forms of birth control, in-vitro fertilization, and potentially even things like chemotherapy for pregnant women with cancer. Even Mississippi’s conservative voters couldn’t support this over-reaching measure. They rejected it by 57 percent to 43 percent.
• In Arizona, immigrant rights prevailed.
The powerful Republican president of the state senate — Russell Pearce — was defeated in a recall election, becoming the first state legislator in Arizona’s history to be ousted that way. Pearce was the lead author and advocate of SB 1070, Arizona’s draconian anti-immigration law. His loss to a moderate Republican was a referendum on the anti-immigration law, with Pearce’s opponent arguing that the law was a blight on the state.
• In Maine, voters nixed a vote-suppression bill.
The state’s tea party activists elected ultra-conservative Paul LePage as governor a year ago. LaPage is perhaps most notorious for ordering the removal of a highly acclaimed labor mural from a state office building because it included positive images of unions and workers. He had also passed a bill eliminating same-day voter registration — a 40-year-old practice in the state that had significantly increased voter participation, especially among low-income voters. This week, Mainers resoundingly overturned LePage’s voter suppression bill, voting 59 percent to 41 percent to reject it.
• In North Carolina, voters endorsed integration.
Arch-conservative activists had won control of North Carolina’s Wake County School Board in 2009, with significant outside funding from the Koch brothers, two radical billionaires who bankroll the tea party. The school board, which manages Raleigh’s school system, immediately began dismantling the county’s nationally recognized school integration program. Democratic-backed candidates captured four of the school board seats in October. Following the Nov. 8 runoff election, Democrats wield a 5-4 majority.
• And in Michigan, education cuts took a hit.
Republican state Sen. Paul Scott was defeated in a recall election. He’s the first legislator in that state to be recalled in three decades. Scott’s advocacy of education cuts was a top issue.
Nov. 8, 2011, might be the first signpost of the 2012 election. Across the country, it looks like voters are having second thoughts about the tea party agenda, now that they have seen what it actually means in practice.
Tom Israel is the executive director of the teachers union in Montgomery County, Md.