The first question after every big election is who’s up and who’s down — or to borrow a term from my Gambit colleague Clancy DuBos, “Da Winnas and Da Loozas.” An equally compelling level of analysis is less about who than about what.
We don’t have national referenda on issues in the United States, but Tuesday’s results in multiple states dropped some powerful hints as to the overall mood on certain major policy areas.
Topping the list is health care, specifically the Affordable Care Act that former President Barack Obama passed with only Democratic votes and that Republicans have been trying ever since to repeal.
For a while, opposition to the ACA was very good for Republicans, who focused on real problems — mostly higher costs for some customers — but also raised misleading alarms over government control and allegedly creeping socialism. With President Donald Trump in the White House and both houses of Congress under GOP control, the law survived a muscular repeal bid last year in a dramatic late-night Senate vote.
Tuesday confirmed that the prospect of a serious threat is over.
One popular part of the law, its guarantee that people with pre-existing conditions can buy health insurance at affordable rates, wasn’t on Tuesday’s ballot, but it might has well have been.
Many a Democratic candidate campaigned to preserve this immensely popular provision by promising to block future attempts at repeal. And many a defensive Republican basically conceded they were on the wrong side by insisting they’d preserve this protection too, all those repeal attempts notwithstanding. Pre-existing coverage is still endangered by a Texas lawsuit supported by a big group of Republican state officials nationwide, including Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, over the strong objection of Gov. John Bel Edwards. But with Democrats now in charge of the House, it should be safe from congressional attack.
Another ACA provision got a big boost too, mostly in Republican states. The health care law allowed states to expand Medicaid to cover the working poor, largely at federal expense, but a later U.S. Supreme Court decision made expansion optional. Many red states said no, including Louisiana under then-Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Edwards, a Democrat, campaigned to reverse that decision and did so immediately upon taking office, and more conservative states are now going to be following suit. Voters in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah approved ballot initiatives to accept Medicaid expansion. Voters in Maine had previously done so, but outgoing Gov. Paul LePage had refused to comply. His newly-elected successor, Janet Mills, has said she’d stop blocking the policy voter-approved change.
Criminal justice reform was also on the ballot in several states and won decisive victories.
Here in Louisiana, of course, voters from across the political spectrum threw out a nearly unique system in which juries could deliver criminal convictions over the objection of up to two jurors. From now on, juries will have to arrive at their decisions unanimously.
And in Florida, an electorate that was closely divided on its choices for U.S. Senate and governor still easily approved a measure to restore voting rights to most convicted felons who’ve served out their terms. Nearly two out of three voters backed the measure, which could create as many as 1.5 million newly eligible voters.
The criminal justice reform movement is one of the rare areas where Democratic and Republican politicians and interest groups have put down their swords and teamed up. The wide margins on both of these questions suggest that the voters they purport to represent are right there with them.
Also winning support were a couple of ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage in Arkansas and Missouri, two states that, like Louisiana, tend to vote Republican.
Once a bipartisan issue, this is now basically a Democratic agenda item among politicians. The group includes Edwards, who ran on a platform of slightly raising Louisiana’s minimum wage over the federal minimum. Business-affiliated Republican lawmakers have blocked him, but these results, as well as Edwards’ initial victory, suggest that such a move could have popular support here too. That message wasn’t lost on Edwards, who trumpeted the votes on his Facebook page.
Your move, Louisiana Legislature.