It should come as no surprise that most of the political and pundit class in the beltway are looking in all the wrong places as they try to use the 2009 elections as a barometer of where the country is at. Out of all of the election results from yesterday, the anti-tax ballot measures in Maine and Washington (known as TABOR) provide a better political tea leaf into voter attitudes going into the 2010 election cycle than anything else. The good news is, progressives won big on a topic that will likely define the nature of the midterm election.
A central tenant of the right-wing agenda has been rejected with the defeat of TABOR (known deceptively as the "taxpayer bill of rights") in these two states -- states that are diverse from each other in almost all respects. Maine's measure went down with a resounding defeat, 60% to 40%, while Washington's campaign came from behind with a 55% to 45% rebuff.
A few weeks ago, conservative columnist and tea party champion John Fund wrote in the WSJ that: "If voters in Maine or Washington state pass a taxpayer bill of rights, it will be a clear sign that even in blue states the public is coming to believe that government spending is out of control and that elected officials can no longer be trusted to rein it in. That's a message that will likely reverberate in Congress regardless of who wins in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races."
Well, what does a loss mean, John? It means that you were right; voters really did send a clear sign -- a sign that extremist "Tea Party" leaders remain entirely out of touch with the people, and bereft of any actual solutions to real problems. The hyped populist anger around taxes has not translated to election victories. It's time to go back to the drawing board and determine what other "just say no" knee jerk ideas remain to hang your hat on for 2010.
If their ballot strategy wasn't so dangerous, it would be comical. But the sad reality is that anti-government conservatives cynically tried to use the bleak budget picture as an opportunity to ratchet down even harder as states look to find the revenue necessary to protect priorities, create jobs, and get their economies going. TABOR would have slowed economic recovery and left Washington and Maine in a permanent recession. TABOR would have undermined the tradition of local control. TABOR would have threatened education and health care. But people voted their values and said no -- not in our state. TABOR was a bad idea before, and is even a worse idea now in the middle of a recession.
But, they'll be back. The irony is that those who supposedly are speaking for the people -- and positioning themselves as representatives of the populist outrage in this country -- don't hold themselves accountable to what the people actually want and vote for. They lost this central test to their agenda, and it doesn't matter to them. After all, TABOR was already defeated at the ballot in Maine, Nebraska, and Oregon in 2006 and most recently in California. Even with aggressive paid signature drives they also failed to make the ballot in Ohio, Missouri, Oklahoma, Montana, and Michigan in previous cycles. Between 2005 and 2009, TABOR was introduced legislatively and failed to be referred to the ballot by even Republican dominated legislatures in 28 states. Colorado remains the only state to have adopted this terrible idea (which voters opted to suspend parts of in 2005), and they've suffered the consequences as a result.
My walk away is this -- progressives have a lot to celebrate on a topic that is one of the toughest to beat at the ballot box. These votes prove that the tea party anger doesn't translate into majorities. If you look beyond Virginia and New Jersey and instead to Washington, Maine and New York's special, the right wing base, which has the strongest voice in our political dialogue right now and is holding the purse strings of their movement, remains out of sync with moderates and Independents. If they are only speaking to the base they are not building majorities. Clearly voters don't trust conservatives on fiscal policy. Don't believe the media hype -- they are not going into 2010 with a clear advantage on topics that will likely define the midterm elections.
So, good luck Grover Norquist, Dick Armey, the National Taxpayer's Union and the Sam Adams Alliance. It's now time to explain to your funders how election losses and appeals to shrinking minorities justify your paycheck.
For more information on other ballot measure results, refer to www.ballot.org