The Headline: A Victory for Abortion Rights
Voters in Ohio overwhelmingly voted to legalize abortion by voting Yes on 1, despite the Republican legislature’s attempt to thwart plebiscitary democracy in August and their use of a misleading summary of the question. Since Dobbs, Republicans have accelerated their attacks on citizen initiative and referendum process (direct democracy) across the country because they know their agenda of shutting down medical clinics, helping police track Americans’ periods and interstate travel, and jailing patients is unpopular.
Andy Beshear was re-elected governor in deep-red Kentucky, campaigning largely on his steadfast support for abortion access and pointing out his opponent’s support of giving rapists more rights than their victims and banning contraception.
In Virginia, Democrats picked up control of the legislature after making the case to voters that the Republican governor would make good on his pledge to ban abortion in the state if Republicans gained control of the divided legislature. In New Jersey, Democrats made gains in their legislature too. Thanks to Democrats Abroad’s advocacy, this was the first election in recent years where all overseas voters were allowed to vote for their state legislators. (While most overseas voters are given complete ballots, in 12 states, overseas citizens who mark that their return is uncertain are given ballots with federal races only.)
In Mississippi, Democrat Brandon Presley received an impressive 47% of the vote for governor. Republican Tate Reeves was re-elected as governor and is expected to continue to deny hundreds of thousands of Mississippians free healthcare, diverting federal funds for desperately needed poverty relief into pet projects for his wealthy friends, and finding creative unconstitutional means to deny the self-governing rights of voters in majority Black Jackson while taking resources from them.
For more information on the stakes for climate justice, criminal justice reform, and voting rights of races across the country, see the cheat sheet of Bolts Magazine.
In key states, including Virginia and Mississippi, hundreds of thousands of voters are denied the franchise due to voter suppression laws. In Mississippi 1 in 10 adults is barred from voting due to a racist constitutional reform from 1890 designed to strip political power from black residents; 1 in 6 black Mississippians are now disenfranchised. In Virginia, the Republican governor ended his two Democratic predecessors’ practice of restoring voting rights, and tens of thousands of voters were denied the right to vote. Days after Beshear came to power, he issued an executive order granting hundreds of thousands of disenfranchised Kentuckians the right to vote.
Also in the News—Major Infrastructure Wins
As money from the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act goes out the door, the Biden administration is giving the green light to infrastructure projects across the country. Transit fans were delighted to see phase 2 of the Second Avenue Subway into East Harlem and the Gateway Tunnel for commuter rail from Garden State into New York City included in recent announcements, as well as $16.4 billion in improvements for service and reliability on the Northeastern passenger rail corridor. While not enough for true high-speed rail, these investments will take cars off the road and planes out of the sky as more trains will run and commuters will spend much less time in traffic. Cutting transportation emissions with smart infrastructure investments requires our continued participation by voting all the way down the ballot and giving feedback. Texas, for instance, is using gimmicks to use federal transportation decarbonization funding to widen highways. Minnesota’s new one-vote Democratic trifecta, on the other hand, is rewriting transportation policy to put climate at the center of decision-making.
Local Governments Implement Transportation Policy
The Biden administration listened to the demands of climate justice organizers, who demanded that 40% of climate spending be directed at the communities most impacted by the climate crisis, and adopted the whole-of-government Justice40 Initiative to distribute 40% of federal funding in critical climate, housing, and infrastructure spending in the hands of those who have historically been the most underinvested in and burdened by environmental injustices. But infrastructure spending is done at the state and local levels. There are real questions about whether state capacity and local democracy are strong enough to build the right kind of infrastructure in every community. During the Flint water crisis, for instance, half of Black Michiganders did not have the right to elect their local leadership; the Republican governor replaced them with so-called emergency managers—who created emergencies, poisoning thousands of kids. The Biden administration will have to be extra creative in getting federal dollars into the communities that need them most, many located in hostile states like Tate Reeves’s Mississippi, that have deprived them of funding for water and sewage systems and other lifesaving infrastructure.
Luckily, there was a major win on the ballot that ties together local democracy and climate justice.
Harris County, TX, home of Houston, comprises 63% of the regional population but is granted just 18% of voting power on the Houston-Galveston Area Council, which doles out billions of dollars in infrastructure funding each year. The result is racial and climate injustice: expensive sprawl infrastructure is paid for by depriving the city center of its fair share; pollution-spewing highways cut through communities of color for the convenience of suburban commuters; just 2% of federal flood mitigation funding from Hurricane Harvey was distributed to Houston proper, which sustained 50% of damage in the region. Luckily, as infrastructure spending gets a big boost from the Biden Administration, Houstonians voted overwhelmingly for Proposition B, requiring Houston to negotiate its fair share of representation on the council or leave it entirely. Other cities in similar situations are already taking notice of this major win for democracy.