Friday, November 7, 2014

Voters send contradictory messages to lawmakers

     By now, even casual news consumers have heard that this week’s midterm elections produced a Republican tsunami of victories in U.S. Senate, House and gubernatorial campaigns. The meaning of those wins, however, is anything but clear.

     Midterm voters did something very different than they said they wanted. Voters questioned at the polls on Tuesday complained vociferously about gridlock in Congress, about partisan battles that prevented legislative action, and about mean, strident political bickering. Then they re-elected Scott Walker in Wisconsin, a governor so controversial he had to face a recall launched weeks after he began his first term. They awarded historic majorities to the party that defiantly shut down the federal government, threatened the credit rating of the United States, and led the least productive Congress in history.

     In Kentucky, Sen. Mitch McConnell won re-election despite his role in a 2008 meeting that laid out the strategy of denying a single win of any kind to President Obama, setting up six years of gridlock. In California, a congressman rated as one of the most bipartisan, who was endorsed by both the Sierra Club and the National Chamber of Commerce, is locked in a still-unresolved vote count with a challenger who cast the only opposition vote in over 100 compromises worked out by his city council colleagues. In Massachusetts, Seth Moulton won a House seat while not mentioning his Marine Corps bravery medals.

     The most puzzling thing about Tuesday’s results is the dichotomy between the Republican candidate sweep and passage of progressive ballot measures. Minimum-wage increases, blocked by Republicans in Congress, were approved by double-digit margins in the deeply red states of Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota. Recreational marijuana was legalized in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C. Paid sick leave was mandated in three cities. The state of Washington voted for firearm purchase background checks.

     Governors in Connecticut and Colorado targeted by the National Rifle Association because of their approval of minimal gun regulations won re-election. Despite massive spending from Chevron, the citizens of Richmond, Calif., elected a mayor who opposed what he saw as insufficient government regulation.

     What does it all mean? Different things in different places and consequences that will only become clear in the coming months—just like in every other election.

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