Beyond this year’s grueling battle for Congress, citizens streaming to the polls on Tuesday will also decide over 150 state-level propositions, referenda, and ballot initiatives that promise to have a major impact on how the nation is governed for decades to come.
These include challenges to major elements in President Obama’s legislative agenda: the legality of Obamacare, union card check, and carbon-emission regulations.
Also up for grabs: New laws protecting hunters’ rights, a controversial bid to legalize marijuana in California, and a new income tax in Washington state.
And one state -– Rhode Island -- is even considering changing its name.
In some ways, the initiatives confronting voters in 36 states Tuesday are a reflection of big national issues: How best to react to high unemployment and a lackluster economy, and the ongoing tug-of-war over how to balance government regulation with free enterprise.
While the media spotlight will probably shine brightest on the tight Senate races in Nevada, Washington state, and Colorado, many voters’ lives will be more directly affected by the choices they make on less-ballyhooed propositions and initiatives. Among them:
- Pulling the Plug on Obamacare. Three states have ballot measures intended to nix mandatory healthcare coverage. In Arizona, Proposition 106 would tweak a constitutional amendment that nearly passed in 2008. It amends the state constitution to expressly forbid any healthcare system that requires individuals and businesses to purchase healthcare coverage. Republicans, including Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes, support the measure, while Democrats oppose it. Idaho, Georgia, Virginia, Utah, and Missouri have passed similar laws. And on Nov. 2 voters in two other states, Colorado (Amendment 63) and Oklahoma (State Question 756), will have an opportunity to pass similar legislation. Although they are important symbolically, the practical impact of these measures remains unclear.
- Attacking Card Check. The states of Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah all have constitutional amendments that react to the controversial union “card check” legislation stalled in Congress. If passed by voters, those measures will require that any ballots on whether to unionize within those states must be conducted in secret, and not in a way that would invite unions to pressure workers to go along with collective bargaining proposals.
- Taking Aim at Animal Rights. Increasingly in recent years activists have been looking for state remedies to limit hunters’ rights. Some propositions have proposed banning the practice of hunting within fenced-in game preserves. Now outdoorsmen are shooting back, however, and four states – Arizona, Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee – are considering propositions on Nov. 2 that would declare a state constitutional right to hunt and fish in those states.
- Energizing Business. California’s Proposition 23, which has the strong support of several major energy companies, would ratchet back the Golden State’s aggressive plan to reduce carbon emissions. It would suspend stringent requirements until the unemployment rate in California declines to 5.5 percent for at least a one-year period. Opponents say that is rare even in good economic times. Recent polls suggest public support for Proposition 23 may be slipping.
- Legalizing Pot. California’s Proposition 19 would legalize not only possession, but also the cultivation and transportation of marijuana for personal use. Opinion polls show California voters very closely divided on the issue. Three other states – Oregon, South Dakota, and Arizona – are considering propositions allowing, or expanding, use of marijuana for medical purposes.
- Limiting Taxes. Historically, propositions restricting taxation have had the biggest impact on national politics. The classic example was California’s Proposition 13, which limited authorities’ ability to levy real estate taxes: It sparked a nationwide taxpayer rebellion that helped lay the groundwork for the emergence of late President Ronald Reagan. This year, by contrast, the biggest tax proposition takes things in the opposite direction however. Initiative 1098 would establish a new income tax in Washington state, where residents currently pay no state income tax at all -- an apparently intolerable state of affairs in the minds of some, it would seem. The new tax, which is strongly supported by Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates and his influential father, would only apply to those earning $200,000 or more.
The initiative would also reduce some other state tax revenues. Income tax opponents warn that once the tax collector’s nose is in the tent, taxation will expand to consume a greater and greater share from those in all tax brackets. Over $10 million has been spent by both sides on this one initiative, proving billionaires can disagree. As Bloomberg News reports: “Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos and wireless entrepreneur Craig McCaw are all funding a $6.3-million campaign to defeat it.” Balancing out the Washington proposal are amendments that would limit taxation in Colorado, Louisiana, and Indiana.
Finally, one of the most historic amendments in this cycle involves Rhode Island, whose official name is actually “Rhode island and the Providence Plantations.”
The new proposal is to simply shorten the state’s official name to “Rhode Island.” The goal, proponents say, is to eliminate any reference to the state’s legacy of slaveholding. A little-known fact: Historians say that after America gained its independence from England, merchants in Rhode Island accounted for more than 60 percent of the slave trade in America.
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