Tag Archives: referendum

Election Day from coast to coast: Key races in every state

 

Much more is at stake on Election Day than the White House. State by state, district by district, neighborhood by neighborhood, candidates and campaigners are making their last pitch for Congress, state legislatures, governor’s offices, ballot questions, judgeships, city councils and lots more.

A nationwide look at important, interesting and occasionally odd matters that go before voters today:

ALABAMA

Alabama voters must decide on 14 statewide constitutional amendments affecting everything from funding for state parks and the age of public officeholders to beer. Yes, beer. The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board wants to require brewers to report the name, address, age and phone number from anyone who purchases beer at one of the state’s craft breweries for off-premises consumption.

ALASKA

Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is up for re-election, and the race has drawn not one but three foes: Democrat Ray Metcalfe, independent Margaret Stock, and Joe Miller, who upset Murkowski in the 2010 GOP primary only to then lose the general election in a historic write-in campaign. This time Miller is running as a Libertarian.

ARIZONA

Eight years after losing his bid for president, Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain is running for re-election. McCain has publicly struggled with whether to support GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, who called McCain a loser and criticized him for being captured during the Vietnam War. Marijuana is on the ballot; voters could legalize the drug for recreational use by adults. Minimum wage could rise to $12 an hour by 2020 under a separate ballot measure. Metro Phoenix Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America, is fighting for his job after a criminal indictment stemming from his immigration patrols.

ARKANSAS

Arkansas could become the first Southern state to legalize medical marijuana, although a similar proposal lost by less than 30,000 votes a year ago, out of 1.3 million votes cast. Republicans are expected to hold all four of Arkansas’ U.S. House seats. Democrats are fielding a candidate in only one district.

CALIFORNIA

Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s retirement creates a rare open seat, and for the first time in the modern era, no Republican will be on the ballot. Thanks to California’s unusual primary system, in which the two top finishers from the June primary advance to the general election, voters will decide between two Democrats _ state Attorney General Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez. The statewide ballot has a whopping 17 propositions, the most on a single ballot since March 2000. There’s a measure to legalize recreational marijuana and one requiring porn actors to wear condoms. Voters will weigh in twice on the death penalty. One measure would repeal capital punishment while another seeks to speed up the process.

COLORADO

Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet is running for re-election against a tea party-aligned opponent, conservative Darryl Glenn, who has struggled to raise funds after national party leaders refused to endorse his candidacy. In a hotly contested House race, Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman is facing a challenge from Democratic state Sen. Morgan Carroll in suburban Denver. The chief ballot questions would allow medical aid in dying and create a universal health care system within the state.

CONNECTICUT

The five Democrats who make up the state’s U.S. House delegation face re-election, including Rosa DeLauro, the longest serving member in the group who is seeking a 14th term. Dr. William Petit, whose wife and two daughters were murdered in a 2007 home invasion, is running as a Republican for the Legislature against state Rep. Betty Boukus, an 11-term Democrat who heads the powerful House bonding subcommittee.

DELAWARE

Voters will elect a new congressional representative and a new governor, while Republicans are hoping to end years of Democratic rule in the General Assembly by regaining control of the state Senate. Democratic U.S. Rep. John Carney Jr. is making a second run for governor against Republican state Sen. Colin Bonini. Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester and Republican Hans Reigle are vying for the state’s lone U.S. House seat.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Voters in the nation’s capital will decide whether they want their city to become the 51st state. The measure, backed by Mayor Muriel Bowser, should pass easily, but that’s probably as far as it goes. Congress would need to approve any such change and Republicans are unlikely to go along with it. With registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans by 12-1 in the city, statehood would tip the balance in the U.S. Senate with two more Democrats.

FLORIDA

Florida voters will decide whether Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio gets a second term. They’ll also pick at least eight new U.S. House members after districts were redrawn to comply with the state constitution, and will cast ballots on legalizing medical marijuana. Rubio faces Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, while ex-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist hopes to revive his political career _ now as a Democrat _ in a race against Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly in a St. Petersburg-area district.

GEORGIA

Democrat Jim Barksdale and Libertarian Allen Buckley are challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who seeks a third term. Barksdale, who owns an Atlanta investment firm, gave $3.5 million toward his first political campaign, but has struggled to get momentum against the well-known Isakson. Georgia voters also will decide on a constitutional amendment allowing the state to take over low-performing schools.

HAWAII

Voters in Honolulu must make two separate choices after U.S. Rep. Mark Takai died in office: Someone to fill his seat for the remaining two months of his term, and someone to represent the district for the next two years. Voter confusion could lead to two different people winning the same seat, to serve two different terms. In heavily Democratic Hawaii, the only state Senate seat held by a Republican, Sam Slom, could flip. That would make Hawaii the first state in the nation to have a one-party legislative body since 1980.

IDAHO

Republicans will dominate at the top of the ticket, leaving an open seat on Idaho’s Supreme Court as the most competitive race. Twin Falls attorney Robyn Brody and Republican state Sen. Curt McKenzie are in a tight, nonpartisan race.

ILLINOIS

Illinois is home to one of the most closely watched U.S. Senate races in the country, with Republican incumbent Mark Kirk and Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth. Kirk, a first-term senator, is considered one of the more vulnerable Republicans, and polls have indeed shown Duckworth with a comfortable lead. Wealthy Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has spent record amounts on down-ballot races in hopes of tilting the Democrat-leaning Legislature toward the GOP so he can press his own policy agenda in second half of his term.

INDIANA

With Republican Gov. Mike Pence on the national ticket as Trump’s running mate, the governor’s office is up for grabs. And this is another state with a U.S. Senate race that will be crucial to determining party control. A former governor and U.S. senator, Democrat Evan Bayh, wants to return to the Senate and faces Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Young. Democrats are hoping to gain enough seats in the General Assembly to break the current Republican stranglehold.

IOWA

Republican Charles Grassley is seeking a seventh U.S. Senate term and trying to retain a seat his party has held since 1957. Democrats are optimistic that their candidate, Patty Judge, can break that winning streak, given her previous elections to statewide office as agriculture secretary and lieutenant governor. Two of Iowa’s four U.S. House races are expected to be especially competitive.

KANSAS

Democrats are seeking to cut into Republican majorities in both houses of the Legislature and oust more allies of term-limited GOP Gov. Sam Brownback. Conservatives and abortion opponents are seeking to remove four Kansas Supreme Court justices in hopes of giving Brownback a chance to remake the court ahead of major abortion and school funding rulings.

KENTUCKY

Voters will decide whether to send Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, who made an early run for the presidency, back to Washington for a second term. His Democratic opponent is Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. Voters also will determine whether the only legislative chamber in the South still controlled by Democrats remains so. Republicans need to pick up four seats to win a majority in the Kentucky House for the first time since 1920.

LOUISIANA

Two dozen _ that’s right, two dozen _ candidates are vying for an open seat in the U.S. Senate after incumbent David Vitter decided not to seek re-election. One of them is white supremacist David Duke, who is not among the top-tier candidates in polling. Because no candidate is likely to get the 50-percent-plus-one majority needed to win outright, the top vote-getters will head to a Dec. 10 runoff that could end up determining which party gains control of the U.S. Senate for the next two years.

MAINE

Mainers will decide whether to make marijuana legal for everyone over age 21. Maine is one of nine states considering ballot questions on pot legalization for recreational or medicinal use. Another initiative would require background checks before the sale or transfer of firearms between people who aren’t licensed dealers. And one would boost the hourly minimum wage from $7.50 to $12 by 2020.

MARYLAND

Voters will pick a replacement for the popular Barbara Mikulski, who is retiring after 30 years in the U.S. Senate. U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a seven-term Democrat, is running against Kathy Szeliga, minority whip in the state House of Delegates. She has sought to portray Van Hollen as an insider of dysfunctional Washington. Baltimore will choose a new mayor.

MASSACHUSETTS

Massachusetts voters will also vote on marijuana legalization, as well as a proposed expansion of charter schools. There are a handful of congressional contests, with Democratic U.S. Reps. Richard Neal, Niki Tsongas, Joe Kennedy, Stephen Lynch and William Keating all facing challengers.

MICHIGAN

It’s the Democrats’ last shot to disrupt the GOP’s agenda or Republicans will lead the Legislature all eight years of GOP Gov. Rick Snyder’s tenure. At least a dozen GOP-held House districts _ half with incumbents, half open due to term limits _ will determine which party secures the minimum 56 seats needed. Democrats have targeted two GOP-held U.S. House districts, while two spots on the Michigan Supreme Court represent the most significant statewide races.

MINNESOTA

A trio of competitive congressional races takes top billing in Minnesota. Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan will try to fend off a rematch challenge from Republican Stewart Mills to hang on to a northeastern Minnesota district that has been a liberal stronghold for decades. The result has been one of the most expensive House elections in the country. Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen will be defending his suburban Minneapolis seat, while the two parties jostle over another suburban district that opened with a top Republican’s retirement.

All 201 state House and Senate seats are on the ballot in an election to determine legislative majorities. Voters will also decide whether to hand off legislators’ power to set their own pay to an independent council.

MISSISSIPPI

All four of Mississippi’s U.S. House members _ three Republicans and one Democrat _ are up for re-election. All are likely to prevail. Four of the nine state Supreme Court seats will also be filled, as will four of 10 seats on the state Court of Appeals.

MISSOURI

Missouri voters will decide whether to send U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt to a second term, or choose Democratic challenger Jason Kander instead. It’s a race that will help decide party control of the Senate, and polls have indicated a toss-up for months. Meanwhile, Missouri’s contentious campaign for governor has been the nation’s most expensive. Republican newcomer Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, has campaigned largely on his military record, while Attorney General Chris Koster has endorsements from the Missouri Farm Bureau and National Rifle Association, which typically support Republicans.

MONTANA

Popular Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is up for a second term in the conservative-leaning state against software entrepreneur Greg Gianforte, who spent more than $5.6 million of his own money on his campaign. Incumbent U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke is seeking to hold off a determined challenge from Democrat Denise Juneau to maintain a two-decade Republican lock on Montana’s sole House seat. Pot is also on the ballot, with a measure that would loosen many of the restrictions imposed on the state’s medical marijuana program with a 2011 state law that limited marijuana providers to three patients each.

NEBRASKA

Nebraska voters have the opportunity to reinstate the death penalty and reverse last year’s decision by the Legislature. The citizen-led ballot measure has triggered millions in campaign spending. In one of the country’s most competitive congressional races, Republicans are looking to defeat first-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford, who promotes himself as a champion of bipartisanship. His opponent, Don Bacon, is a retired Air Force brigadier general who is running as a Washington outsider.

NEVADA

Nevada is home to one of the most expensive U.S. Senate races in the country, featuring lots of TV ads about the seat being vacated by Democratic leader Harry Reid. The race is between U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, a Republican, and Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, a former Nevada attorney general trying to become the first Latina U.S. senator. Recreational marijuana is also on the ballot, raising the possibility of pot shops springing up near the Las Vegas Strip.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

New Hampshire is a presidential swing state, and home to a tight U.S. Senate contest between Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte and Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. It’s one of a half-dozen races that could help determine which party controls the Senate. Two members of the U.S. House, Republican Chris Sununu and Democrat Colin Van Ostern, are vying to replace Hassan as governor.

NEW JERSEY

One of the nastiest U.S. House races in the country this year has pitted a Republican incumbent, Rep. Scott Garrett, against Democrat Josh Gottheimer. In a district that stretches from wealthy New York City suburbs to the state’s rural northwestern corner, the two candidates have called each other liars and engaged in a war of words and accusations to rival the presidential candidates. New Jersey voters will also decide on a proposed expansion of casino gambling.

NEW MEXICO

There’s little suspense at the top of the ticket, with all three U.S. House incumbents expected to be re-elected, so Republicans are focused on defending their narrow majority in the state House. The party took over in 2014, ending 60 years of Democratic control. The criminal conviction and resignation of former Secretary of State Dianna Duran in 2015, for embezzlement and money laundering related to her gambling addiction, has opened that office. The race is between Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Republican state lawmaker Nora Espinoza.

NEW YORK

Voters will decide whether the Republican Party maintains control of the state Senate or Democrats secure total control of state government. The outcome is likely to come down to a handful of competitive races on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley.

NORTH CAROLINA

As a focal point in battles over transgender rights and voter ID laws, North Carolina may be the state where social and ideological divisions are the most defining this election year. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is in a tight race against Democrat Roy Cooper, the state’s attorney general. Former state Rep. Deborah Ross is presenting a strong challenge to incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr in one of the most closely watched Senate races.

NORTH DAKOTA

As this state’s energy- and agriculture-dependent economy falters, voters will choose a new governor to lead it through increasingly troubled financial times. But with Republican Doug Burgum a heavy favorite in this reliably red state, five ballot measures may be of most interest. Among the most-watched will be a measure that would make it legal to possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana for medical purposes.

OHIO

Early on, former Gov. Ted Strickland looked like one of the Democrats’ best bets to flip a U.S. Senate seat in his party’s favor. He’s running again Republican incumbent Sen. Rob Portman. Then outside groups spent more than $50 million to beat Strickland, who also lost key union endorsements and was up against a formidable voter outreach and turnout effort by Portman. Now the seat looks pretty safe for the GOP.

OKLAHOMA

Oklahoma voters will be watching a ballot issue that targets the state’s chronically low teacher salaries and one that would enshrine the death penalty in the state constitution, even as executions remain on hold after mistakes in two recent lethal injections.

OREGON

A Republican is threatening to win statewide office for the first time in many years, in a battle for secretary of state that is the hottest in Oregon. Democrat Brad Avakian is running ads saying his GOP rival is “extreme like Trump.” Republican Dennis Richardson has racked up endorsements from numerous newspapers and even from two prominent members of Avakian’s own party.

PENNSYLVANIA

Since 1948, no Democrat has won the White House without winning Pennsylvania. There’s also a hot U.S. Senate race between Democratic challenger Katie McGinty and Republican incumbent Pat Toomey, who is among the most vulnerable Republicans as the GOP struggles to retain its majority. Spending on that campaign is on track to hit $140 million.

RHODE ISLAND

Voters in Rhode Island, a state that has seen its share of political corruption, will decide whether to expand the authority of the state’s ethics commission. They’ll also be asked whether to allow a new casino.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott , the South’s first black senator since Reconstruction, is running for his first full term. He was appointed to the seat in 2013 following the resignation of Sen. Jim DeMint, then won election to the final two years of that term. Democrat Thomas Dixon, a community activist and pastor, is challenging him. Then there’s Democrat Dimitri Cherny, whose platform includes colonizing the moon and Mars in case the Earth becomes uninhabitable. He’s challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, the ex-governor whom voters sent back to Congress in 2013.

SOUTH DAKOTA

The main suspense is likely to be the fate of 10 ballot questions on topics ranging from public campaign funding to payday loan interest rates.

TENNESSEE

Democrats are hoping to chip away at vast Republican majorities in the state Legislature by focusing on urban areas, while the GOP is seeking to stamp out the last vestiges of Democratic support in rural parts of the state.

TEXAS

Texas’ only competitive congressional race looks to be the rematch between Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd and former Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego in a district that sprawls from San Antonio to suburban El Paso, including 800-plus miles of U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Hurd unseated Gallego in 2014. The entire Texas House also is up for election, along with 16 of the state Senate’s 31 seats. Regardless of the outcomes, both chambers will remain Republican-controlled.

UTAH

The independent campaign of Evan McMullin has made Utah suddenly relevant in presidential politics. If the former CIA operative, a Mormon, can win the state and claim its six electoral votes, it could upend Donald Trump’s chances for the White House end five decades of reliably voting for the Republican nominee.

VERMONT

This state, considered among the most liberal in the country, may well elect a Republican governor. That race pits Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, against former state Transportation Secretary Sue Minter, a Democrat.

VIRGINIA

Barbara Comstock, a first term GOP congresswoman, is trying to fend off a serious challenge from Democrat LuAnn Bennett. Trump’s unpopularity in northern Virginia has loomed large in the race, with Bennett trying to tie Comstock to the presidential nominee. In the crowded race for mayor of Richmond, the front-runner is Joe Morrissey, a former state lawmaker who went to jail for having sex with his then-17-year-old receptionist, who is now his wife

WEST VIRGINIA

Republicans are hoping to ride on the coattails of an expected strong showing for Trump, who has promised to put coal miners back to work. In the governor’s race, Democrat Jim Justice, a billionaire coal and agriculture magnate, faces Bill Cole, the state Senate president. In the state auditor’s race, Democrat Mary Ann Claytor is vying to become the first African-American statewide officeholder in West Virginia history.

WASHINGTON

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee is seeking a second term. He faces Republican Bill Bryant, a former Seattle port commissioner who says Inslee has mismanaged the state’s mental health system and failed to fund K-12 education as mandated by the state Supreme Court. Six initiatives are on the statewide ballot, including raising the minimum wage to $13.50 an hour by 2020 and imposing a carbon emission tax on certain fossil fuels.

WISCONSIN

It’s 2010 all over again in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race. This time, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is the incumbent and former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold is the challenger. Johnson argues that having been fired once by voters, Feingold does not deserve to be sent back. But Feingold says Johnson has not led on the issues Wisconsin voters care about and should not be given a second term.

WYOMING

Republican Liz Cheney is heavily favored to win Wyoming’s only seat in the U.S. House, which was formerly held by her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney. Her opponent, Democrat Ryan Greene, works for an oilfield services company. Wyoming voters also will decide whether to allow the state to invest potentially billions more in the stock market, changing a state law that limits investments.

Washington voters to decide on nation’s 1st carbon tax

Washington lawmakers have tried and failed in recent years to make polluters pay for their carbon emissions to fight climate change.

Now, voters will get to decide.

Continue reading Washington voters to decide on nation’s 1st carbon tax

Oklahoma voters to decide on return of Ten Commandments

Oklahoma voters will decide in November whether to abolish an article of the state constitution so that a Ten Commandments monument can be returned to the Capitol grounds.

The House has voted 65-7 for a resolution calling for a statewide vote on whether to remove a constitutional prohibition on the use of state funds to support a religion.

The state Supreme Court relied on that section of the constitution in June when it ordered a 6-foot-tall granite Ten Commandments monument moved from the Capitol grounds.

The monument’s removal angered many Oklahomans, particularly Republican lawmakers who vowed to return the monument to state property.

“Since the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision in June regarding the Ten Commandments monument, my constituents wanted to know what could be done,” said Rep. John Paul Jordan, R-Yukon, an attorney who sponsored the bill in the House. “I knew it would be a difficult proposition to undo the ruling, so we looked at giving voters the opportunity to remove the basis for the ruling.”

Originally authorized by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2009, the privately funded monument has been a lightning rod for controversy since it was erected in 2012, prompting a lawsuit from Bruce Prescott, a Baptist minister from Norman who complained it violated the state constitution.

Its placement at the Capitol prompted requests from several groups to have their own monuments installed, including a satanic church in New York that wanted to erect a 7-foot-tall statue that depicts Satan as Baphomet, a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a long beard. A Hindu leader in Nevada, an animal rights group and the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster also made requests.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, which represented Prescott, has vowed another challenge in federal court if the statue is returned. ACLU Oklahoma’s Executive Director Ryan Kiesel, a former Democratic lawmaker, has accused GOP lawmakers of using the monument as a political gimmick.

Even if the Oklahoma voters decide to amend the constitution and return the monument to the Statehouse, Kiesel said it’s likely a challenge would prevail under the U.S. Constitution and Oklahoma taxpayers would be stuck footing the legal bill.

Big gulp: GOP advances water privatization

“Aqua America” sounds like a water park on the shore of a great lake.

Rather, Aqua America is the second-largest publicly traded water utility company in the United States, and some day the company — or Veolia or Suez — could take control of municipal water systems in Wisconsin. 

Republican lawmakers fast-tracked AB 554/SB 432, legislation that would diminish public influence and make it easier to privatize local water supplies.

Environmentalists in the state call the measure the “Water Privatization Bill.” The Assembly approved AB 554 on Jan. 12. A Senate floor vote had not been held as WiG went to press on Feb. 10.

Current state law allows for the privatization of systems provided citizens have a say.

The process currently works like this: A municipality must adopt an ordinance authorizing privatization, then secure approval from the state Public Service Commission and then put the proposal to the voters in a referendum.

In 2008 and 2009, Milwaukee officials considered privatizing the city’s water. A coalition of community leaders, environmental groups and unions — KPOW/Keep Public Our Water — fought the plan, which would have privatized Milwaukee’s water system for up to a century.

The new privatization bill puts the burden of bringing a referendum on citizens. A municipality would adopt an ordinance but a referendum wouldn’t be held unless citizens wage a successful petition drive. And, with no referendum, the PSC would approve privatization.

Democratic lawmakers worked through January to counter the measure and try to improve the bill. In a Senate committee vote in January, Sens. Chris Larson and Julie Lassa offered several unsuccessful amendments that would have reserved some control for local citizens.

Larson, in early February, also was working with Reps. Amanda Stuck, D-Appleton, and Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee, to advance a measure — LRB 4602/1 — intended to keep water and sewer utilities under local control.

“I am appalled that my colleagues across the aisle are trying to take Wisconsin down the dangerous path of privatizing water,” Brostoff said. “A one-time privatization scheme payoff pales in comparison to risking our public safety.”

Pushing privatization

Most Americans get their household water from publicly owned and operated service. 

The polls show most Americans want to keep these services and, in Wisconsin, there’s been no public outcry from city and county officials for legislative change.

“As a member of the Assembly Committee on Energy Utilities, I did not hear testimony from any municipal leader asking for expanding the ability of corporations to take over their water,” Stuck said. “Instead, what we heard was a desire to keep control of these vital utilities local, so that decisions about how to keep a cost-effective and safe water supply are made by the local community and not by the profit-seeking shareholders of private companies.”

So, what’s driving a legislative push for privatization?

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported in late January that AB 554, authored by Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, and SB 432, written by Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, is akin to draft legislation — the Water/Wastewater Utility Public-Private Partnership Act — circulated by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

ALEC is a special interest group of businesses and politicians that has advanced a series of anti-immigrant, anti-voter, anti-choice and anti-environment measures. Much of ALEC’s funding comes from trade groups, corporations such as Exxon Mobil and right-wing organizations like the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.

Proponents argue privatization is a solution for municipalities burdened by capital improvements to systems that have been under-funded due to years of deflated rates.

They also maintain that water utilities are businesses and companies can serve consumers better than government.

Some proponents of privatization illustrate their arguments by pointing to the water crisis in Michigan, where officials at nearly every level of government failed the people of Flint.

Those arguments, however, unleash a flood of opposing positions from those who see the cost-cutting profit motive as the underlying cause of the Flint crisis.

“The residents of Flint were stripped of their democratically elected authority and, in the name of saving a few dollars, have been forced to sacrifice their health in the process,” said the Rev. Allen Overton of Concerned Pastors for Social Action, part of a coalition seeking federal court intervention to secure safe water in Flint. “The community deserves accountability, transparency and justice, in addition to water that is safe to drink.”

Opposing privatization

“Government has a level of accountability to citizens that private companies do not,” stated Kerry Schumann, executive director of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters. 

She continued, “Think about when you have a problem with your phone service. You typically spend hours being passed from faceless person to computer system and back to another faceless person who could be anywhere in the world. Sometimes it takes days, weeks or more to solve the problem.

“Now imagine that water starts coming out of your tap brown, your family starts getting sick and you have to attempt to get help from a faceless, out-of-state private corporation that has no accountability to you or other voters living in the community. It’s bad enough running into this lack of responsiveness when you’re talking about a phone plan. The health of your family is certainly more important than phone service, and we should treat it that way.”

The league is on record as opposing the privatization bill, as are other leading environmental, consumer and good-government groups in the state. Opponents include the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Clean Wisconsin, the state Sierra Club, Midwest Environmental Advocates and Milwaukee Riverkeeper.

“Not just across the country, but across the entire globe, water privatization has failed to increase the access to or quality of water supplies for communities time and time again,” read a statement from Milwaukee Riverkeeper intended to motivate members to urge their senators to reject the privatization bill. 

These groups take the position that access to water is a right and water should not be a source of windfall profits. They, and national watchdog organizations, such as Food and Water Watch and Public Citizen, offer these arguments against privatization:

• Privatization leads to rate increases because corporations seek to maximize profits for investors.

Investor-owned utilities typically charge 33 percent more for water, according to Food and Water Watch.

After privatization, water rates increase at about three times the rate of inflation, with an average increase of 18 percent every other year.

• Privatization undermines water quality, because the motivation for companies is profit, not public good. Aqua America, headquartered in Pennsylvania, took in $769 million in revenues in 2013 for a $221 million profit. The company’s CEO received $3.2 million in compensation that year.

• Privatization reduces public rights and allows the local government to abdicate control over a public resource.

• Private financing costs more than public financing.

• Privatization leads to job losses as companies minimize costs to increase profits. Food and Water Watch, which opposes any commodification of water, said privatization typically leads to a loss of one in three water jobs.

• Privatization contributes to corruption because companies can restrict public access to information.

• Privatization can contribute to sprawl because companies are motivated to expand infrastructure and extend services.

• Privatization could lead to bulk water exports or changes in water use, including sales to the oil and gas industry for hydraulic fracturing.

• Privatization is difficult to reverse.

The crisis in Flint prompted people across the nation to focus on the quality of the water that comes out of their tap and the management of their utility.

There’s also a global big-picture to consider: The World Bank predicts that by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will run short of fresh drinking water. 

Wisconsin will not run short of drinking water by 2025, but who or what will control how much water costs — or where it goes?

Washington voters approve comprehensive measure against wildlife trafficking

Washington voters on Nov. 3 approved a measure to severely restrict the trade in parts of 10 species of animals threatened with extinction.

Initiated by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and backed by The Humane Society of the United States, the ballot measure bans the trade in the parts of elephants, rhinos, lions, tigers, pangolins, leopards, cheetahs, sharks, rays and marine turtles and is the nation’s most comprehensive anti-wildlife-trafficking law enacted in any state.

The ballot measure passed in all 39 counties.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, said in a news release, “This is an enormous momentum-builder for the movement in the United States to shut down the commerce in trinkets, powders and pelts that are driving some of the world’s most iconic creatures to the precipice of extinction. The animals need their tusks, horns, heads and hides more than we do, and Washington voters have given our movement a shot in the arm with this resounding vote.”

The political committee known as Save Endangered Animals Oregon, also led by The Humane Society of the United States, is seeking to qualify a similar initiative in Oregon and to pass it in 2016.

Volunteers have gathered a preliminary round of more than 1,500 signatures, which have been submitted to the Oregon Secretary of State.

A second, much larger, round of signature gathering could begin by the end of the year, with the goal of placing the Save Endangered Animals Oregon measure on the November 2016 ballot.

The Humane Society of the United States and its partners are working across the country to shut down the market for parts of these rare and threatened species. Last month, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that prohibits the sale of elephant ivory and rhino horn, and in 2014, New Jersey and New York passed similar laws at our urging.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration is working to adopt a final federal rule to stem the illegal ivory trade in the United States.

The U.S. is the second largest market for ivory products in the world after China. Last month, the president of China announced his country would replicate a U.S. ban on the commercial trade in ivory.

“With the efforts at the state and federal level in the United States and the decision by China to join our movement, we have an incredible opportunity to put a stop to the mass slaughter of elephants and other creatures around the world,” said Pacelle.

Menominee Indian Tribe will vote on legalizing marijuana

Menominee Indian Tribe members will have a chance to weigh in on whether marijuana should be legal for recreational and medicinal use on the reservation in northeastern Wisconsin.

The tribe plans a referendum next month to find out how its members feel about legalizing the drug. A two-question referendum on Aug. 19 and 20 will ask tribal members whether medical marijuana and recreational use for adults 21 or older should be legal on the Menominee Indian Reservation.

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice issued the Cole Memorandum, allowing tribes to grow or sell marijuana on reservations if they follow eight guidelines. The Menominee Indian Tribe is able to take advantage of the memo because it answers to federal prosecutors.

WLUK-TV reports that many tribal members are in favor of legalizing marijuana.

Irish gays wake up to whole new world: When’s the wedding?

Ireland’s gay citizens woke up on May 23 in what felt like a nation reborn — some with dreams of wedding plans dancing in their heads.

Many weren’t rising too early. The Irish gay community’s biggest party in history came late on May 23, after the announcement that the nation’s voters had passed a gay marriage referendum by a landslide.

Ireland’s unexpectedly strong 62 percent “yes” to adding same-sex marriage to its conservative 1937 constitution is expected to lead to a wave of gay weddings this summer. The Justice Department confirmed Sunday it plans to publish a marriage bill this week that will be passed by both houses of parliament and signed into law by June.

With the move, Ireland became the first country in the world to approve gay marriage in a popular national vote. Nineteen other countries, including most U.S. states, have legalized the practice through their legislatures and courts.

For Ireland’s most prominent gay couple, Sen. Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan, it’s an emotionally overwhelming moment. Since 2003 they have fought Ireland legally to have their marriage in Canada recognized as valid here, have taken their case all the way to the Supreme Court. Now, their day has come.

“For so long, I’ve been having to dig in my heels and say: Well, we ARE married. I’m a married woman!” said Zappone, a Seattle native who resettled with her Irish spouse in Dublin after they met and fell in love while studying theology in Boston College. “Now that it has happened, at a personal level, it’s just going to take a long time to let that acceptance sink in.”

The unexpectedly strong percentage of approval surprised both sides. More than 1.2 million Irish voters backed the “yes” side to less than 750,000 voting “no.”

“With today’s vote, we have disclosed who we are: a generous, compassionate, bold and joyful people,” Prime Minister Enda Kenny proclaimed.

Analysts credited the “yes” side with adeptly employing social media to mobilize young, first-time voters, tens of thousands of whom voted for the first time Friday. The “yes” campaign also featured moving personal stories from prominent Irish people _ either coming out as gays or describing their hopes for gay children _ that helped convince wavering voters to back equal marriage rights.

Both Catholic Church leaders and gay rights advocates said the result signaled a social revolution in Ireland, where only a few decades ago the authority of Catholic teaching was reinforced by voters who massively backed bans on abortion and divorce in the 1980s.

Voters legalized divorce only by a razor-thin margin in 1995 but now, by a firm majority, dismissed the Catholic Church’s repeated calls to reject gay marriage. Abortion, still outlawed, looms as the country’s next great social policy fight.

Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said the “overwhelming vote” against church teaching on gay marriage meant that Catholic leaders in Ireland needed urgently to find a new message and voice for reaching Ireland’s young.

“It’s a social revolution. … The church needs to do a reality check right across the board,” said Martin, who suggested that some church figures who argued for gay marriage’s rejection came across as harsh, damning and unloving.

“Have we drifted completely away from young people?” he asked. “Most of those people who voted ‘yes’ are products of our Catholic schools for 12 years.”

After the result was announced, thousands of celebrants flooded into the Irish capital’s pubs and clubs. At the George, Ireland’s oldest gay pub, drag queens danced and lip-synced to Queen and the founding father of Ireland’s gay rights campaign, Sen. David Norris, basked in the greatest accomplishment of the movement’s 40-year history.

“The people in this small island off the western coast of Europe have said to the rest of the world: This is what it is to be decent, to be civilized, and to be tolerant! And let the rest of the world catch up!” Norris, 70, shouted with jubilant zeal to the hundreds packing the disco ball-lit hall.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Norris waged an often lonely two-decade legal fight to force Ireland to quash its Victorian-era laws outlawing homosexual acts. Ireland finally complied in 1993, becoming the last European Union country to do so.

This time, the gay community in Ireland managed to build a decisive base of support.

“People from the LGBT community in Ireland are a minority. But with our parents, our families, or friends and co-workers and colleagues, we’re a majority,” said Leo Varadkar, a 36-year-old Irish Cabinet minister who in January announced on national radio that he was gay. “For me it wasn’t just a referendum. It was more like a social revolution.”

Milwaukee County voters to face referendum on minimum-wage hike

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors on June 26 voted to place a referendum on the November ballot asking voters whether the state minimum wage should be raised to $10.10.

Supervisor Khalif Rainey proposed the resolution that brought the vote.

The board voted 13-4 to place the “Raise Wisconsin” minimum wage referendum on the ballot, which also will contain the governor’s race, as well as other offices. Along with Rainey, Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, Supervisor Gerry Broderick, and Supervisor Willie Johnson, Jr. were co-sponsors of the resolution.

The vote followed a short press conference at which the supervisors, Raise Wisconsin activists, low-wage workers and others spoke in support of raising the minimum wage.

Devonte Yates, a national leader in the movement of fast food workers and a Milwaukee County resident, said after the vote, “No one can survive on $7.25, and believe me, I have tried.  For over a year, workers like me have been taking to the streets, fighting to win higher wages.  Now, we are going to bring this movement to the ballot box in November.”

Wisconsin’s minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum. On a 40 hour a week schedule, that means $15,080 per year, or $290 per week. That’s below the federal poverty line for a single parent with a child.

Twenty-two other states have higher minimum wage levels. Massachusetts passed legislation last week setting its state minimum wage to $11 per hour, while Connecticut and Maryland set $10.10 minimum wage levels in the past month. In the Midwest, Michigan and Minnesota already have set higher minimum wage levels and Illinois is expected to follow.

Raise Wisconsin campaign director Peter Rickman, who lives in Milwaukee County, said, “It’s time to raise the wage so that we can raise our economy and raise Wisconsin.  Working people in our state need a raise, and we will win the higher wages necessary to address staggering income inequality, to increase economic opportunity, and to improve living standards.”

Jennifer Epps-Addison, executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now, added, “For too long, our communities have needed more economic opportunity and security.  Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 is a critical first step to transform the low-wage jobs of today into family-supporting jobs that can build a new middle class for Milwaukee’s future.”

Earlier in the week, Raise Wisconsin activists submitted signatures to qualify similar referenda in the cities of Neenah and Menasha. Previously, Eau Claire and Kenosha counties placed similar referenda on the November ballot.

The Dane County Board was expected to vote on a resolution later on June 26.

Proposed resolution would allow vote on Citizens United in Wisconsin

The recently introduced Senate Joint Resolution 68 proposes a November ballot referendum asking Wisconsin voters whether their elected leaders should support a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United.

Citizens United is the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that cleared the way for corporations to make unlimited contributions to campaigns and have unprecedented influence in U.S. elections. The Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group described it this way: “The ruling, based on the premises that corporations have the same constitutional rights as people and that money is equivalent to speech, opened the floodgates to the corrupting influence of big money in our democracy by granting corporations the power to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections.”

The referendum, though not binding, has the support of dozens of grassroots groups in the state.

“Poll after poll has shown that overwhelming majorities, including Republicans, Democrats and Independents, all stand united in the concern that big money, wealthy donors are drowning out the voices of average Americans,” said Bruce Speight, WISPIRG director. “In a democracy, the size of your wallet shouldn’t determine the strength of your voice or your right to representation. Senators should pass this resolution and give the people of Wisconsin a say in the future of our democracy.”

A report released by the WISPIRG Foundation and Demos entitled “Billion Dollar Democracy,” found that total spending on the 2012 election cycle topped $5.2 billion, with more than $1 billion coming from SuperPACs and similar groups. Nearly 60 percent of the total SuperPAC funding came from 159 people making contributions of at least $1 million.

Wisconsin has seen a similar trend in its elections.

Spending by candidates and interest groups in elections for state and federal offices totaled $391.9 million in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles — more than triple the $123.7 million spent in the 2006 and 2008 election cycles, according to a review conducted by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. 

Since the 2010 ruling on Citizens United, 16 states and more than 500 municipalities have passed resolutions opposing the decision. In Wisconsin, 14 counties and municipalities have passed resolutions.