Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.
In the 1990s conservative strategists began to reshape the politicallandscape with an onslaught of ballot initiatives. State by state,Republicans employed this tactic to slash social programs and roll backrights–most notoriously, with the anti-gay marriage initiatives of2004–while progressives remained largely on the defensive.
Now, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Ballot InitiativeStrategy Center, progressive organizations are learning how to useballot propositions to promote bold, innovative policy around thecountry. Launched five years ago, BISC provides state and nationaladvocacy groups with key research and training in effective referendumstrategies.
Although ballot initiatives may not be as sexy as high-profile candidateraces, they are an important part of this year’s mid-term elections. Inaddition to paving the way for progressive policy strides, referendumscan galvanize voters and increase turnout. According to University ofFlorida professor Daniel Smith, in the past twenty years of midtermelections, each ballot initiative increased turnout, on average, by 2percentage 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-evermulti-state ballot-initiative strategy, the drive for an increasedminimum wage has the potential to win, even in so-called red states.Raising the minimum wage is a highly popular idea; in an April Pewsurvey, 83 percent of the public said they favored raising the federalminimum wage to $7.15 (only ten states have enacted a minimum wage atthis rate or higher). If there’s an issue that unites Americans acrossideological and demographic lines, it’s this one.
**Renewable energy in Washington and California. In 2004progressives in Colorado voted for a precedent-setting renewable energypolicy (Ken Salazar credited the ballot initiative with turning outthe young voters who helped him secure his Senate victory). NowWashington and California are following suit. These initiatives wouldrequire the states’ largest electric companies to increase their use ofrenewable resources like wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and smallhydro from less than 2 percent today to 15 to 25 percent in the comingyears.
**Fusion voting in Massachusetts. In New York fusionvoting–which allows voters to choose the same candidate on any ofseveral party lines–helped candidates from the progressive WorkingFamilies Party secure key posts in the state. Its passage could helpbring about broader progressive leadership in the Bay State.
**Stem cell research in Missouri. Both Republican biotechbosses and progressive grassroots activists are pushing hard to allowstem cell research to be conducted in Missouri. If successful, thislife-saving proposition could set the precedent for the next progressivemulti-state ballot initiative campaign.
Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, contributes to The Nation’s new blog, The Notion, and co-writes Sweet Victories with Katrina vanden Heuvel.