For many conservatives, the central question about Election Day is: How bad will it be?
Those who seek bright spots amid the gloom should look down the ballot. In most states, voters will weigh a variety of measures placed before them through petition drives, legislative referrals, and other means. Several hold particular interest for conservatives — on civil rights, marriage, abortion, stem cells, taxes, health care, and Big Labor.
Since 1996, Ward Connerly has led efforts to outlaw racial preferences in three states: California, Michigan, and Washington. This year, he’s hoping to add Colorado and Nebraska to his list of successes. Barack Obama opposes these efforts, but his candidacy has benefited from the very colorblindness that these proposals seek to encode. An America that is capable of putting a black man in the White House (or even on the verge of doing so) surely doesn’t need to cling to well-meaning but misbegotten affirmative-action policies that lead to lowered standards, racial bean-counting, and stigmatization.
Three states will vote on banning gay marriage: Arizona, California, and Florida. California’s Proposition 8 is the most contentious. In May, the state Supreme Court overturned a statute that defined marriage as a union of one man and one woman — in 2000, 61 percent of voters had endorsed this definition. Proposition 8 would alter the Golden State’s constitution and presumably reverse the court’s reversal. Polls suggest that Proposition 8 won’t win anywhere near the 61-percent support that its predecessor attracted just eight years ago. The final result promises to be a nail-biter. Approval would deliver a blow to the gay-rights movement and provide a boost to proponents of traditional marriage.
The culture of life is on the ballot in five states. California, Colorado, and South Dakota have the opportunity to limit abortion rights. An initiative in Michigan would permit the destruction of human embryos in scientific research and allow state funding for it. This vote will test the strength of the pro-life movement in a state that is home to many culturally conservative Democrats. Finally, the state of Washington will consider following in the footsteps of its neighbor to the south, Oregon, legalizing euthanasia.
Massachusetts will decide whether to phase out the state’s personal income tax. Voters in Arizona, Florida, Maine, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Oregon also will have a chance to limit or lower their taxes. Coloradoans will ponder raising their state sales tax to provide more services to the disabled. Minnesotans also will have a chance to increase their sales taxes so that the state government can spend more on parks and the arts. Although Minnesotans love the outdoors, taxpayer groups point out that St. Paul already has underwritten such public artworks as sculpture popularly known as “The Big Poo.” Simple disgust may compel enough voters to flush down this tax hike.
The nation’s politics may lurch to the left tomorrow, but a few initiatives would tug it slightly to the right. If Arizona approves Proposition 101, it would launch a preemptive strike against socialized medicine by prohibiting laws that prevent people from pursuing private health-care coverage. In Colorado, voters will weigh three separate initiatives that would weaken the ability of unions to take advantage of their legal privileges to organize, fund their political agendas, and influence public officials with campaign donations. In Oregon and Missouri, voters can promote the teaching of English in schools and the use of English in government meetings, respectively.
Divining political trends from the results of ballot initiatives is a dicey business. Conservatives who want to plan a path forward, however, would do well to study these results and identify signs of hope.