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Populist Proposals Win In 2014

Memo Pad Politics

Populist Proposals Win In 2014


There’s no denying that Democrats took a drubbing at the polls in 2014. Running cautious campaigns and shying away from Obamacare, Wall Street regulation, the anti-fracking movement, immigration reform and Obama himself — was not a winning strategy.

While the Democrats had a poor showing, populist and progressive ideas surged. Even in red states, pollsters find support for big progressive policy changes (such as living-wage laws, Medicare for all, a national infrastructure jobs program, expanded Social Security benefits and free higher education) that would re-establish a vibrant middle-class America. While voters were tossing Democrats aside in this past election, bigger majorities of the same electorate leapt at the chance to say “YES” to an array of unabashedly populist ballot initiatives:

Minimum wage. Even though the crimson-red states of Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota elected GOP Senate candidates, voters rejected the low-wage policies of the Republicans and their corporate backers by approving minimum-wage increases. San Francisco voters also raised their wage floor to $15 an hour, and Oakland went to $12.25. In addition, non-binding referenda calling for raises to $10 or more were approved by 65 percent of the voters in Illinois and by 13 Wisconsin cities and counties, where a whopping 70 to 83 percent of voters OK’d the increases.

Fracking. While ExxonMobil, Halliburton and dozens of huge energy corporations are in a nationwide fracking frenzy — running roughshod over local citizens in the furious rush for fast profits — locals have begun pushing back against the gross pollution, health problems, infrastructure damage and even earthquakes caused by the inherently destructive and intrusive fracking process. Asserting their human and civic rights, local coalitions have, in the last few years, won several referendum fights to ban fracking in their communities.

This year’s election saw four more victories added to the list. Bans were passed in Athens, Ohio (with 78 percent of the vote), California’s Mendocino County (67 percent) and San Benito County (57 percent) and even in Denton, Texas (59 percent).

Corporate money. In dozens of communities in five states, people went to the election polls and confirmed what opinion polls consistently report: The overwhelming majority of Americans want corporate money out of our elections. In the midst of the most money-soaked midterm election in global history, multipartisan majorities said “enough!” They voted for initiatives that said (1) only humans have constitutional rights; (2) money is not speech; and (3) “We the People” want to pass a 28th Amendment overturning the Supreme Court’s corrosive Citizens United edict.

Ironically, even as the Koch-financed governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, pulled off a re-election victory, 12 local communities (including his home county of Milwaukee) voted between 70 and 80 percent for local initiatives that call for an amendment to overturn the Court’s terrible decision. Similar majorities were amassed in statewide in Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts and Ohio. As the national director of the Move to Amend Campaign put it: “The leaders of both parties need to realize that their voters are clamoring for this amendment, and we are only going to get louder.”

Paid sick leave. Poverty is sickening enough, but millions of people trying to live on poverty-level wages face a truly sickening choice when they fall ill: Stay at home and lose a few days’ pay, or go to work sick, possibly spreading the illness to co-workers and customers. This year, there were four big victories for paid sick leave: Massachusetts (59 to 41 percent), Oakland, California (81 to 19 percent), Montclair, New Jersey (74 to 26 percent) and Trenton, New Jersey (86 to 14 percent).

Conservation. Three major conservation initiatives passed this year: Alaskans voted to prohibit future mining projects that would endanger wild salmon habitats; 75 percent of Florida voters approved a measure to dedicate $1 billion a year in real estate taxes to the protection of water in the endangered Everglades and other areas; and New Jerseyans OK’d an initiative that requires $2 billion in corporate tax revenue be spent on land conservation.

Marijuana. This year both Alaskans and Oregonians voted for full legalization, while Washington DC voted to decriminalize marijuana. And the U.S. territory of Guam approved marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

The day after the election, President Obama said: “To the two-thirds of voters that chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you.” Fine. But will he and the other Democratic leaders make the giant leap from “hearing” to doing? Taking bold, populist actions makes working stiffs and average Americans excited about voting. We need more leaders to champion the populist cause.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo: pbarcas via Flickr

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower is a nationally syndicated columnist and one of America's most prominent progressive voices. His column carried by more than 75 publications across the country. Prior to becoming a writer, Hightower served as Texas Agricultural Commission from 1982 to 1991.

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  1. Gary Miles December 31, 2014

    Minimum wage- What ever ya’ll want, but don’t be crying when the layoffs begin and the cost of living rises in these areas. I would like to see fast food workers get their wish too, as that will be the end of “fast” and most likely the “food” part too. Some lessons will always be learned the hard way. With economics, anything other than supply and demand, such as government intervention, will always destroy the industry. So please, keep pushing for the raise hikes.

    Fracking- everyone will be happy to know that layoffs have already begun in this industry. Fracking costs are not profitable with oil lower than 56 dollars a barrel. If oil prices stay down, expect about 40,000 layoffs by summer (high paying jobs I might add). States have already begun to worry about lost tax revenue as much of their budget comes from the oil industry. For those who think outside America, this will do a great deal of damage to the economies of several countries that rely on oil revenue to pay for social programs. Russia, Venezuela, Iran and several others. It will be the poor who get screwed, not the wealthy. To add to this, in a recent committee hearing before Congress, the EPA head had not one factual event that fracking has harmed any drinking water, although investigations continue. Those investigations have been going on for 60 years. Facts matter!

    Corporate money in elections- The Koch Bros contributions are so overblown it’s truly amazing (#59 on the list of highest paid contributors). The highest contributors are Labor Unions, whom donate to Democrats 90+% of the time. I’m all for this one. Campaigns should be limited to “X” amount of money per candidate, per election. This includes PAC’s expenditures. In simpler terms, only an “X” amount of money can be spent on a candidate campaign, after that number is reached, no more money can be spent. If the campaign spends more, he/she is disqualified. This includes all monies combined, even by private organizations such as labor unions that support a candidate (those expenditures will be included). In short, lets get money out of elections, to every extent possible. I’m with you folks on this issue!

    Paid sick leave- Had that as part of wage and benefits in every job I ever had. A temporary unemployment benefit that the employer can file a claim would be great since they already pay into that insurance. Sick leave beyond 3 days should be accompanied by a doctors report to receive sick pay beyond 3 days. Up to 3 days can be deducted from annual paid time off benefit where applicable. There are many ways to fix this issue (as an ex Teamster rep, I fought for just this thing).

    Conservation- I’m big on this subject, but not to the level of environuts. We use biologists, foresters and State game officers in combination to manage the land and wildlife locally. A proper use of science, education and simple conservation for the next generation ensures abundance in the future. I have seen conservation go to extremes and really hurt the deer herds in Pa in the past. Many of us have fought and have had changes made to bring that herd back to healthy numbers while managing overpopulation in a humane way. Plus, we feed the needy 100’s of tons of meat each year!

    Pot- legalize it and every other drug that the Feds have outlawed. The Feds do not have the authority to outlaw anything, including pot. (why do you think it took a Constitutional Amendment to oulaw alcohol and make it legal again?)

    1. johninPCFL January 1, 2015

      Businesses hire folks for a single reason – they’re required to meet the delivery requirements for the goods and services the business provides. If the business reduces its workforce below the level needed, the customers go elsewhere to get the goods and services.
      To think that a minor increase (.05 per burger) in costs will spur huge layoffs is nonsense. Washington state’s increase in the state minimum wage did nothing to decrease job creation there, and in fact the increased spending power of those in low positions may have increased job creation: “Highest Minimum-Wage State Washington Beats U.S. in Job Creation” Bloomberg Business News, 6/13/2013.
      Yes, the Koch brothers writing directly from their checkbooks contributed little to the election cycle. They avoided the constant calls for money by establishing a web of interlocked PACs to distribute their money, hundreds of $millions in the last cycle:”Koch Network Raised $400 Million In 2012 Elections. The Washington Post reported that the Koch-backed political network, including groups such as Americans for Prosperity and the American Energy Alliance, raised over $400 million for the 2012 elections, and that its “resources and breadth” make it “singular in American politics””, MediaMatters.org

      1. Gary Miles January 1, 2015

        I did day I was all for raising the minimum wage. I think people should make more money. But as with anything good, there are always bad things that tend to follow as a result of the good thing. That is especially true with economics (as I mentioned in the Fracking paragraph). By the way, I write everything I say, I only copy and paste to prove a point and I NEVER copy from a known right wing or left wing rag (like mediamatters). Show stats from official government agencies (even though they may be just as skewed). Copy and pasting an entire post shows that one lacks the brains to think for him or her self. I’m sure that is not the case with you considering the time the post was made.

        My point on the good and the bad played out last night in North Carolina. A town had a tradition of dropping a live opossum in a cage to do their New Years count down. PETA stuck their nose into it and claimed it was animal abuse etc etc. The town leaders agreed. So instead of lowering a live opossum as had been the custom, they made a pot of opossum stew and lowered a big pot of that instead. In short, people should be careful what they ask for.

        Happy New Year! May you and your family have a healthy and happy year with much prosperity!


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