The 2018 midterm elections were a mixed bag for progressive policies. We had some big wins: States expanded Medicaid, increased the minimum wage, and gave voting rights back to more than a million Americans. But we also faced some hard losses: There are new regressive tax laws, restrictions on abortion access, and tough votes against criminal justice reform.
The undisputed good news is that Americans chipped away at the old guard last night. After two years of constant stress about losing our health care, massive tax handouts to the wealthy, and open animosity towards anyone perceived as different, we finally gained some ground.
To celebrate, we’re taking a break from our usual doom and gloom and rounding up the results that we were excited to wake up to this morning.
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We finally have some good news about health care.
Congressional Democrats are in a better position to defend the Affordable Care Act, and are likely to work on stabilizing the ACA and addressing high drug prices in the new congress.
On a state level, voters were clearly motivated by concerns about health care. They also approved Medicaid expansion in three states: Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah. This extends Medicaid coverage to 340,000 low-income people.
The victories for Medicaid don’t stop there. In Maine, where the governor and voters have been engaged in a protracted battle over Medicaid expansion, Governor-elect Janet Mills says she’ll implement Medicaid expansion “immediately” upon taking office. Tony Evers in Wisconsin and Laura Kelly in Kansas could also drive expansion in their states, where leadership has historically resisted it. Sadly, all isn’t rosy: Montana voters rejected a ballot measure that would have extended Medicaid funding via a tobacco tax, ending coverage for nearly 100,000 residents.
A number of pro-choice candidates performed well last night. But two states, West Virginia and Alabama, amended their constitutions to specifically rule out the right to abortion. It’s a symbolic amendment for as long as Roe v. Wade stands, but the new balance on the Supreme Court could place it in jeopardy.
Florida is giving the vote to 1.4 million residents.
Florida’s Amendment 4 restored voting rights to people with felony records. Until last night, it had been one of only three states (now two) that denied people convicted of felonies the right to vote after they served their sentences. That disenfranchised more than 9 percent of the state’s population overall, and 21 percent of African Americans.
It’s difficult to estimate how big of an impact this could have moving forward, but it’s certainly possible that this influx of new voters will sway future elections. And, most importantly, it will allow more than a million people to vote on the policies that affect their lives.
One other bright spot last night was in Colorado: The state passed an amendment barring the use of slavery as punishment for a crime. Other ballot measures were, to put it nicely, kind of a bummer. Six states passed a version of Marsy’s law, which establishes a victims’ bill of rights that has the potential to violate the rights of people accused of crimes and makes it harder for people who are incarcerated to access parole boards and early release. In addition, North Dakota and Ohio both rejected measures that would lessen sentences for drug crimes.
Conservative states are raising their minimum wage.
Voters in Missouri and Arkansas approved increases in the minimum wage, which will together provide a raise to nearly 1 million workers. Missouri’s ballot initiative, which won with more than 62 percent of the vote, will hike its wage to $12 per hour by 2023. Arkansas’, approved by nearly 70 percent of voters, will increase the minimum wage to $11 per hour by 2021. Missouri’s initiative also reverses a minimum wage decrease that the state legislature imposed on St. Louis, which had raised its own minimum wage to $10 in 2017.
This continues a trend of minimum wage action on the state and local level. Though the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has not been increased since 2007, four states approved wage hikes in 2014, and four more did the same in 2016, while cities including Baltimore, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. have increased their own minimums.
Still, 21 states adhere to the federal minimum wage, the purchasing power of which peaked in the 1960s. We would certainly like to see more movement here, since wages have been stagnant across the country for the last several decades – particularly for low-income workers and black and Hispanic families.
Massachusetts will uphold rights for transgender Americans.
In 2016, Massachusetts passed a bill to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in public places, but the law’s opponents managed to get it placed on the ballot this year. Voters upheld the law, which provides protections that don’t exist on a national level, by nearly 70 percent. In most states, it is still legal to discriminate against someone in housing, business, employment, and public accommodations because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Because we’re celebrating, we’ll gloss over how irritated the entire TalkPoverty staff is that it’s possible to put these rights on the ballot. Instead, we’ll look at this as a blow to the specious arguments that opponents to trans rights have been making against trans Americans.
San Francisco is taxing corporations to help people experiencing homelessness.
It was generally a bad night for tax policy on the state and local level, due to several states, including North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona, approving anti-tax ballot measures, and the defeat of an effort to raise corporate taxes and implement a progressive income tax in Colorado in order to spend more money on public schools.
However, San Francisco approved an increase in its corporate tax — which will be levied on about 300 of its biggest businesses — in order to raise money to combat the city’s homelessness epidemic. At least 50 percent of the funding will be dedicated to direct housing in a city where some 7,500 people are experiencing homelessness.
The successful campaign in San Francisco was mirrored in two other Bay Area cities and counters a similar effort in Seattle, where the city council passed and then repealed a “head tax” due to opposition from Amazon and other big corporations.