Democracy Beats Oligarchy

“From coast to coast, conservatives score huge victories,” announced a Washington Post headline after last week’s elections. “Liberals Got Smoked Across the Country Last Night,” read another in Slate.

The post-election media narrative has focused on setbacks for progressives, including Democratic losses in Kentucky and Virginia, along with the failure of Houston’s equal-rights ordinance. Yet, while it was a disappointing election night for the Democratic Party, it was also a promising one for democracy, as voters across the country acted decisively to reform the electoral process and fight the corrosive influence of money in politics.

In Ohio, a purple state with a conservative Republican governor, 71 percent of voters supported a constitutional amendment to outlaw the partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts and create a bipartisan redistricting commission. The overwhelming transpartisan support for the amendment is particularly heartening considering how clearly the old rules favored Republicans, who hold commanding majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. Indeed, as Nation correspondent John Nichols pointed out, “even though Democratic President Barack Obama and Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown won big statewide victories in 2012, there was no parallel shift to the Democrats when it came to state legislative races.”

Fifty-five percent of Maine voters cast their ballots to strengthen the “clean election” law passed in 1996, which established a voluntary system of public financing. For nearly two decades, the law has empowered ordinary citizens such as progressive state Rep. Diane Russell, a former cashier, to run for office, but recent court rulings and budget cuts have conspired to weaken the system. Local activists worked with national reform groups, such as Every Voice and Common Cause, to build support for the ballot initiative, which provides additional funding for public financing and stronger disclosure requirements. Notably, the measure was fiercely opposed by right-wing Gov. Paul LePage, who called it a “scam.”

Read more