In the 1990s conservative strategists began to reshape the political landscape with an onslaught of ballot initiatives. State by state, Republicans employed this tactic to slash social programs and roll back rights–most notoriously, with the anti-gay marriage initiatives of 2004–while progressives remained largely on the defensive.
Now, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, progressive organizations are learning how to use ballot propositions to promote bold, innovative policy around the country. Launched five years ago, BISC provides state and national advocacy groups with key research and training in effective referendum strategies.
Although ballot initiatives may not be as sexy as high-profile candidate races, they are an important part of this year’s mid-term elections. In addition to paving the way for progressive policy strides, referendums can galvanize voters and increase turnout. According to University of Florida professor Daniel Smith, in the past twenty years of midterm elections, each ballot initiative increased turnout, on average, by 2 percentage points.
Here are our top four progressive ballot initiatives for 2006.
§ Minimum-wage increases in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Ohio.
Using progressives’ first-ever multi-state ballot-initiative strategy, the drive for an increased minimum wage has the potential to win, even in so-called red states. Raising the minimum wage is a highly popular idea; in an April Pew survey, 83 percent of the public said they favored raising the federal minimum wage to $7.15 (only ten states have enacted a minimum wage at this rate or higher). If there’s an issue that unites Americans across ideological and demographic lines, it’s this one.
§ Renewable energy in Washington and California.
In 2004 progressives in Colorado voted for a precedent-setting renewable energy policy (Ken Salazar credited the ballot initiative with turning out the young voters who helped him secure his Senate victory). Now Washington and California are following suit. These initiatives would require the states’ largest electric companies to increase their use of renewable resources like wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and small hydro from less than 2 percent today to 15 to 25 percent in the coming years.
§ Fusion voting in Massachusetts.
In New York fusion voting–which allows voters to choose the same candidate on any of several party lines–helped candidates from the progressive Working Families Party secure key posts in the state. Its passage could help bring about broader progressive leadership in the Bay State.
§ Stem cell research in Missouri.
Both Republican biotech bosses and progressive grassroots activists are pushing hard to allow stem cell research to be conducted in Missouri. If successful, this life-saving proposition could set the precedent for the next progressive multi-state ballot initiative campaign.