In addition to deciding the makeup of Congress, selecting several governors, and a weighing a host of local races, voters across the country will be voting on 159 statewide ballot measures, of which about 60 are more interesting than bland bond measures. Of these propositions, there are a handful that I believe could have a national or even international impact.
Marijuana Legalization – California’s Proposition 19
California’s Proposition 19, the initiative to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, is probably the most consequential ballot measure this year. Its effect would not only be felt in the state but could spark both national and international reform. The passage of Prop 19 would force a national debate about marijuana legalization, and we would likely see similar ballot measures in half a dozen states in 2012. It is possible that, within a short period of time, several countries would follow California’s lead and also adopt legalization.
Redistricting Reform – Florida’s Amendments 5 and 6, California’s Propositions 20 and 27
Next year all states will undergo redistricting based on the data from the 2010 census. The partisan gerrymandering of districts in large states can not only help give one party a several-seat edge, but, by creating very partisan “safe” districts, it protects and empowers incumbent Representatives, leaving them more worried about primary challengers than general election opponents.
Florida is the fourth largest state and currently has some of the most extremely gerrymandered districts in the country because its redistricting is controlled by the state legislature. It is likely that, after November, the Republican party will control the Florida legislature and the Governor’s mansion. Amendments 5 and 6 would impose tight new restrictions on the legislature when it came to draw state legislature and congressional districts, respectively. Fair Districts Florida is the non-partisan force behind the reforms.
California’s Congressional redistricting is currently controlled by the legislature, but in 2008 the people of California passed Prop 11 to create a citizen’s redistricting committee to draw state legislative districts. Prop 20 would expand the scope of the committee to the redistricting of congressional districts. Also on the ballot is Prop 27, which would repeal Prop 11 and return to the state legislature to power to draw their own districts. If both measures pass only the one with the largest majority will become law.
In these huge states, the redistricting measures could cause several congressional districts to change hands and make several districts more or less competitive. This could have a real national impact, especially with the control of the House expected to hinge on only a handful of seats after this November.
Climate Change – California’s Proposition 23
With climate change legislation appearing to be permanently stalled in Washington, the steps states are taking in this are become more important. Proposition 23, which would suspend California global warming legislation until unemployment is below 5 percent, was put on the ballot by big oil, with the unemployment “trigger” in there so its supporters could pretend it is a “jobs” measure. If Prop 23 passes, it would be devastating to the environmental movement, and probably have a chilling effect on further action at the state or federal level. Global warming deniers would point to it and say “even in liberal California, they don’t believe it.”
Public Campaign Financing – Florida’s Amendment 1
I believe that money in politics is corrupting, and voluntary public campaign financing is one of the best of all the imperfect possible solutions available within our electoral system. Florida’s amendment 1 would repeal the public campaign financing system in Florida, and would be a blow to efforts to get public financing adopted more fully across the country.
Taxes – Colorado’s Amendments 60, 61 and 101, Massachusetts’ Question 3, Washington’s I-1098, California’s Proposition 24
Colorado Amendments 60, 61 and 101 would radically reduce tax revenues, eventually costing the state $2.1 billion. The cuts are so radical that even a majority of Republican state legislators have come out publicly in opposition, going so far as to call them more anarchist than fiscally conservative. In Massachusetts, Question 3 would reduce the sales tax from 6.25 percent to only 3 percent without a way to compensate for the state’s loss in revenue. These ballot measures will be test of whether there truly is some new tea party-fueled anger over taxes and a real desire to “starve the beast.”
Washington State’s I-1098 would create an income tax for those making over $200,000, and use the money to pay for an across-the-board property tax cut while funding education and health care. The initiative is very timely for our national debate on taxes. Right after the election, Congress will need to decide whether or not to allow Bush’s tax cuts for people making over $250,000 to expire.
As part of California’s endless struggles with the budget, several corporate tax breaks were approved, like those in the 2008 negotiations. Proposition 24 would repeal these expensive corporate tax breaks before they go into effect. The donors aligned against Prop 24 are, not surprisingly, a who’s who of American mega-corporations. It will be an interesting case study to see if voters understand that corporations are given too many tax loopholes.