Don’t Overlook Off-Year Bellwether Ballot Measures

Election Day 2011 is fast approaching. Most eyes will be focused on the the regularly-scheduled off-year gubernatorial elections in Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, as well as a special gubernatorial election in West Virginia. There are also legislative races Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia. Some pundits suggest that the collective results of these off-year races may serve as a bellwether for the 2012 general election.

Equally, if not more important, though, are the results of the referred and initiated statewide measures on the ballot.

Citizens in nine states–Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas and Washington–will have the opportunity to cast ballots in October on 34 ballot measures, including a dozen measures put on the ballot by citizen.

In terms of ballot bellwethers, topping all other campaigns is “Issue 2” on the ballot in Ohio. The popular referendum is an effort by citizens to repeal the anti-worker Senate Bill 5 that was signed into law by Governor Kasich. If Issue 2 goes down, it should be interpreted not only as a blow against conservatives in Ohio, but also Republicans pushing anti-worker policies in others states, including Florida, Indiana, New Jersey, and especially Wisconsin.

Social conservatives and pro-choice advocates will be turning their attention south, as Mississippi voters will confront an extreme anti-choice “personhood” amendment. Voters in Colorado have defeated a similar measure. Suffice to say, Mississippi is not Colorado.

The Huffington Post has good overviews of both of these issues:

A third measure to watch out for is a popular referendum in Maine that will overturn a Republican-sponsored law ending same-day voter registration in the state. Same day voter registration is a good governance issue, not a partisan issue, though Republicans in the state seem to think otherwise.  The Sun Journal has an update on the campaign, here: People’s veto probably a close to a slam-dunk.

Finally, anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman in Washington has an initiative on the ballot that fiscal conservatives around the country will be taking stock. Fearful of all things public-infrastructure, his pet-project would cut tolls used to pay for new bridges and highways in the state.  As it has done in the past, the business community has spoken up, joining Democrats and organized labor to oppose Eyman’s latest slash and burn measure, as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports:  The Association of Washington Business has come out against the Tim Eyman-sponsored Initiative 1125.

Rather than only reading the tea leaves from the 2011 candidate races, pundits should also consider the results of these ballot measures.  All four measures, as well as several others, will have implications for candidate races in 2012, from state legislative races to campaigns for Congress and the presidency.  As campaign consultants and pundits are increasingly realizing, ballot measures have a range of “educative effects,” as they can ply candidates with salient issues to support or oppose during their campaigns, mobilize turnout, and even prime candidate support.

For more on the scholarship of the “educative effects” of direct democracy, here’s a primer.

Restoring Education funding in Colorado at the Ballot Box

UPDATE: Bright Colorado qualifies as Proposition 103 on the November, 2012 ballot:


Last week supporters of the Bright Colorado initiative submitted over 142,000 signatures in an effort to restore funding to Colorado’s underfunded public education system.

Since the passage in 1992 of the anti-tax constitutional amendment, TABOR, which I profile in my book, Tax Crusaders and the Politics of Direct Democracy, Colorado’s education system has taken a hit.  A huge hit, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities documents.

K-12 spending as a percentage of personal income dropped from 35th to 49th between 1992 and 2001. Colorado’s K-12 public education funding remains in the bottom quintile of the 50 states. Funding for K-12 public schools has been cut by $600 million over the past three years.  Higher education funding is no better.  It too is one of the stingiest in the country, and support for higher ed has been sliced by nearly half over the past decade.

By returning state tax rates to 1999 levels–which amounts to a 0.1 percentage point increase in the state sales tax and a 0.37 percentage point increase in the personal and corporate income tax rates–Bright Colorado is expected to temporarily generate more than $500 million annually for K-12 and higher education through 2016.

There’s no question that raising revenue in the current economic climate is not easy, but if conducted wisely, the Bright Colorado ballot initiative campaign has a chance.

Wouldn’t it send a strong signal across the country that Colorado means business by restoring its public education system?