Tuesday night's state and local elections didn't carry quite the same punch as the midterms of 2010, but with two governorships, a handful of state legislatures, and two hot-button ballot initiatives on the line, it offered a quick temperature check on how the nation's doing. As it turns out, things could have gone a lot worse. So if you went to bed early, here's what you missed:
Ohio: Voters overwhelmingly rejected Republican Gov. John Kasich's controversial union-busting law, which would have severely curtailed collective bargaining rights in the state. More Ohioans voted to repeal Kasich's signature piece of legislation than voted for Kasich last November. It was a big win for progressives, but as Andy Kroll reports, don't put Ohio in the blue column for 2012 just yet.
Mississippi: Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant upgraded his seat to "Governor" with victory over Democrat Johnny DuPree, but the big story here was the surprisingly easy defeat of Question 26—a constitutional amendment to redefine zygotes as people. Supporters of the measure, which would have banned abortion even in cases of rape and affected everything from in vitro fertilization to fire codes, made their final pitch to voters by distributing a graphic film comparing reproductive rights to the Holocaust. (On Monday, Bryant told a woman who had been raped that if Question 26 fails, "Satan wins." So make of that what you will.) In a win for Reublicans, a constitutional amendment to require state-issued identification to vote also passed.
Arizona: GOPer Russell Pearce became the first sitting Senate president ever to lose a recall election—to fellow Republican Jerry Lewis (not that Jerry Lewis). Why should you care? Pearce was the architect of Arizona's SB 1070 immigration law, which he drafted at the behest of private prison lobbyists. Democrats won mayoral races in Tucson and Phoenix, and in a feel-good story, Daniel Hernandez, a hero of the Gabby Giffords shooting, was elected to his local school board for the Sunnyside Unified School District.
Kentucky: Democrats won five of six statewide contests, including the governor's race, where incumbent Steve Beshear easily handled GOP challenger David Williams. This was noteworthy only because Williams spent the final days of the race accusing Beshear of "idolatry" for attending a Hindu prayer ceremony. So what lessons can Obama take from Beshear's success? None, really. Beshear's a very conservative Democrat who recently secured $43 million in tax credits to build a replica of Noah's Ark.
Maine: Another item for the "GOP overreach" narrative. Voters approved Question 1, which restored a law allowing citizens to register to vote on election day. The same-day registration law had been repealed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage and the GOP-led Legislature.
Iowa: Good news for gay marriage supporters. Democrats won a special election for a vacant state Senate seat, thereby retaining control of the upper chamber and dashing the hopes of social conservatives who'd hoped they'd finally have to votes to ban gay marriage. It cost a pretty penny, though; the Des Moines Register estimated that the two sides combined to spend a Wisconsinesque $1 million in the special election.
Massachusetts: Via our friends at Unicorn Booty, Holyoke elected its first gay mayor, 22-year-old Alex Morse.
San Francisco: Interim Mayor Ed Lee came one step closer to becoming the first Asian American to win a mayoral election in the city. Lee was the beneficiary of the most original ad of the 2011 cycle, which featured MC Hammer, will.i.am, Giants pitcher Brian Wilson, and three apparently very stoned voters:
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney (right) and Sheriff Paul Babeu.
When GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney deployed his first robo-calls in Iowa last week, he went straight for the soft underbelly of his most serious rival. "Rick Perry is opposing a border fence and granting in-state tuition benefits to illegal immigrants," the caller said. "Rick Perry is part of the illegal immigration problem."
The voice belonged to Paul Babeu, the sheriff of Arizona's Pinal County and a possible Republican congressional candidate. As Romney looks to ding Perry for being insufficiently tough on undocumented immigrants, the support of such a high-profile law enforcement official could be a valuable asset—especially given the former Massachusetts governor's own wobbly history on the topic. But Babeu comes with some serious baggage. Over the last two years, the federal government and local politicians have repeatedly chided Babeu for making sensationalist, unsubstantiated allegations about border violence. Babeu has called President Obama "the enemy" and said the president has come close to committing treason through his immigration policies. He has also come under criticism by for appearing on a white nationalist talk radio program that's been a frequent platform for white supremacists.
Texas governor Rick Perry, currently polling at 4 percent in Iowa, has been spared some of his usual bad news of late because of the continuing meltdown of fellow presidential candidate Herman Cain. But Mary Tuma flags a damning new report from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board that suggests Perry's State Board of Education has left high schoolers in the state unprepared for the rigors of college. The report slams the SBOE's history standards for, among other things, glossing over the true causes of the Civil War. Key quote:
Over the course of eight months, the lawyers and realtors and dentist on the board made hundreds of changes to the standards. As the politicians squabbled over the politics of who should be in or out, they tacitly adopted a bi-partisan agreement to ignore principles of sound pedagogy. In 2011 the Fordham Institute awarded the 2010 TEKS an overall grade of D, characterizing them as "a politicized distortion of history" that is "both unwieldy and troubling" while "offering misrepresentations and every turn." As the process drew to a close, state board of education chairwoman Gail Lowe admitted that the board had failed to follow up on the college readiness effort.
The "dentist" line is a reference to Don McLeroy, whom Perry twice appointed to serve as chair of the SBOE (which is tasked with devising textbook standards). McLeroy believes "evolution is hooey," and that the Earth is just a few thousand years old—views he sought to incorporate into the state science curriculum.
Given his own financial difficulties, should Mark Block really be trusted?
Herman Cain's first response to Tuesday's allegation of sexual assault from a former National Restaurant Association employee was to blame the media for distracting America's attention from his 9-9-9 tax plan. Within a few hours, he'd apparently reconsidered this tactic, and tried a new one: The accuser, Sharon Bialek, can't be trusted because she went broke a couple times. As spokesman J.D. Gordon argued in a statement, "his opponents convinced a woman with a long history of financial difficulties, including personal bankruptcy, to falsely accuse the Republican frontrunner of events occurring over a decade ago for which there is no record, nor was there ever even a complaint filed."
If Gordon has any evidence that any of Cain's opponents were behind anything that's happened in the last week—and Bialek's allegations specifically—he hasn't managed to produce it. But more absurd is the implication that Bialek shouldn't be trusted simply because she's had a shaky financial history. (The New York Post's Andrea Peyser, taking Gordon's statement to its logical conclusion, called Bialek a "gold digger" on Tuesday.)
Ignoring the fact that most of the two million Americans who file for person bankruptcy each year aren't compelled, as a consequence, to then make unsubstantiated allegations of sexual assault, the "broke people can't be trusted" card is an odd one for Cain to play given the individuals he happens to surround himself with. For instance, here's a sentence I pulled totally at random from an Associated Press story about Herman Cain's chief of staff, Mark Block: "Records show Block has faced foreclosure on his home, a tax warrant by the Internal Revenue Service and a lawsuit for an unpaid bill. He also acknowledges he was arrested twice for drunken driving." The story also mentions that after dropping out of politics, Block went broke and was forced to stock shelves at Target.
Given Block's long history of financial difficulties, including racking up $62,000 in debt with his non-profit, going broke, receiving a tax warrant from the IRS, and foreclosure scare, can we really trust him to tell the truth to the American people?
(Alternatively, perhaps nitpicking over Bialek's personal finances is a total non-sequitur. Just throwing that out there.)
A still from "180," an anti-abortion film that compares reproductive rights to the Holocaust.
On Tuesday, Mississippi voters will weigh in on ballot question 26, aka the Personhood Amendment, which would change the state Constitution to say that fertilized human eggs are legal persons. The measure, if enacted, would make many kinds of birth control illegal (its supporters call the morning-after-pill "a human pesticide"), and ban abortion in all cases—even in instances of rape (supporters organized a "Conceived in Rape" tour earlier this year to promote the amendment). A Public Policy Polling survey released on Monday said the electorate is almost evenly split on the measure.
So how are supporters getting out the vote? By blasting out emails promoting a film that equates support for reproductive rights with support for the Holocaust. 180 is a documentary by Australian New Zealand filmmaker Ray Comfort, and features graphic images from concentration camps. Per a press release, Personhood USA has sent out a link to the film to 600,000 eligible voters in Mississippi. Here's the film:
The film, billed as "33 minutes that will rock your world!," attempts to make the case that abortion is similar to the Holocaust. Incidentally, this isn't the only movie being promoted by Personhood supporters ahead of the vote. Yes on 26, the main outfit supporting the Personhood Amendment, has also been promoting October Baby, which the Huntsville Times describes as "a coming-of-age love story that follows college freshman Hannah, who learns she’s not only adopted, but an abortion survivor."