Amy Gehrt: Voters sending mixed messages at the polls
Another bruising election season is in the books. Yet while there are always unanswered questions in my mind after the votes are tabulated, I have to admit the results of Tuesday’s midterm elections have me scratching my head even more than usual.
For one, voters in many states seemed to be sending contradictory messages: “So voters want a higher minimum wage, legal pot, abortion access and GOP representation. OK then,” Ben Casselman, chief economics writer for FiveThirtyEight and former Wall Street Journal reporter, noted in an election night tweet.
He wasn’t the only one puzzled over that obvious disconnect. Voters in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C., opted for marijuana legalization, while residents in Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota cast ballots backing minimum wage increases. Yet voters in those states — with the exception of Oregon — elected Republican senators and/or governors.
Are there really so many voters who are so ill-informed about where those they just elected stand on these issues? Or are some simply naive enough to think that these elected officials will put aside their own agendas, and that of their party, merely because “the voters have spoken”?
For instance, in Illinois, Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner was quite clear on the fact that he was against a minimum-wage increase early in his candidacy. In fact, less than a year ago, the wealthy Republican businessman advocated reducing the state’s minimum wage from its current $8.25 to the federally mandated minimum of $7.25.
In the face of public backlash, Rauner swiftly backpedaled, first saying he’d back a state increase if the federal minimum wage was also raised, then changing his stance again to say he’d support a hike — but only if there were reforms that favored businesses to go along with it. I’m guessing that now that he’s been elected, his position might well have morphed yet again — especially since it was a non-binding referendum.
Two other advisory questions were also passed by large majorities of Illinois voters. Sixty-six percent backed a referendum that was put on the ballot in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling and would require in-state insurance plans to provide contraception coverage. And 64 percent voted in favor of enacting a 3-percent income tax surcharge for millionaires that would bring in an estimated $1 billion for the public education system.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say the billionaire businessman won’t be advancing either of those issues anytime soon, especially given that he already appears to be going back on his campaign promise to allow the temporary 3-percent income tax increase to expire as scheduled Jan. 1. Of course, what did voters expect from a man who calls former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker role models and cites them as good sources from which to seek policy advice?
D.C. voters may also find their voices ignored when it comes to their new marijuana legalization. Any laws passed there are subject to a congressional review period, and Andy Harris, R-Md., has already vowed to overturn it. And then there is the inexplicable number of voters who seemingly cast ballots against their own self-interest when heading to the polls. I’ll admit this trend, while nothing new, has always baffled me. For example, how can states where those receiving the most public assistance live consistently put conservative lawmakers who rail against those so-called “entitlement programs” into office?
Why would those in the struggling working class vote for representatives who clearly don’t care about them or the very pressing economic issues facing them? How can those who are benefiting the most from the Affordable Care Act elect those who oppose it, and even vow to repeal the ACA the first chance they get? But in each instance they do, time and again.
That question was posed to Michael Eric Dyson on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show,” and his response sums it up like this: “The poor in the red states are blinkered by those people in high-status — economic and politically speaking as well — who prevent the solidarity that could be generated between poor people who are black and Latino, and who are Asian and who are African-American. They would have much more in common, but the racist division, the classist division and the geographical dislocation continues to work against the best interests of poor people.
“And I would say to those poor people in the red states, the policies that are being promoted by the tea party and by the right wing have nothing to do with enabling you to have a better education for your children or to have a better time at your employment. Those who fight for fair wages, those who fight for the benefits economically and those who fight for health care are, I’m sorry, in the blue, not in the red.”
Pekin Daily Times city editor Amy Gehrt may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AmyGehrt.