by Abbey Marr, Reproductive Justice Fellow
No doubt about it, last Tuesday’s results were tough to take. We’re painfully aware of the ways that the 114th Congress can have a serious impact on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people. But, there were some silver linings to remember as we look at what is to come. Here’s what went down this week:
Most ballot measures were positive on issues important to young people: Voters approved extensive background checks for gun purchases in Washington, an equal rights amendment in Oregon, the reduction of some criminal penalties in California, paid sick leave mandates in Massachusetts and several New Jersey towns, marijuana decriminalization in Oregon, Alaska, Guam, and DC, and minimum wage raises in South Dakota, Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, Illinois, San Francisco and Oakland, and they soundly rejected personhood amendments in North Dakota and Colorado.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen – a champion on sexual health issues who has sponsored key legislation on abortion access and birth control – ran a successful campaign with a reproductive rights platform, making Scott Brown the first man to be defeated in a Senate race by two women in two different states.
Many of our progressive champions in the House were re-elected. To brighten your day, check out this interview with one of our sex ed champions, Barbara Lee, on the Colbert Report (skip to 6:24 where they talk about comprehensive sex ed!).
At the state level, Tom Wolf defeated Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, who had an abysmal record on reproductive health issues.
In Tennessee, voters approved a ridiculous abortion amendment to their state constitution, while Georgia voters approved a measure to cap state income tax at 6%, which could result in some big cuts to their social programs in the future.
Aside from Sen. Shaheen in New Hampshire and possibly Sen. Mark Warner in Virginia (where he currently has the lead), progressives and moderates lost seats in the most competitive races, including Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Kay Hagan in North Carolina, and Mark Udall in Colorado. Progressives also failed to unseat incumbent conservative Senators in a few key states, including Kentucky; or capture toss up open seats in Georgia or Iowa.
Both Maryland and Massachusetts, two states considered to have strong progressive bases, elected Republican Governors.
We are awaiting results in two states: Mary Landrieu (D-LA) faces a tough runoff election on December 6th, and with 100% of the precincts reporting, Mark Begich (D-AK) still has not conceded to Republican Dan Sullivan.
Despite record numbers of turnout in places like North Carolina and Missouri, overall, the turnout was one of the lowest in recent history.
While most progressive ballot measures won at the state and local level, the same voters primarily elected conservatives into office, signaling a growing discontent among voters with the lack of strong progressive candidates.
The Republicans will control both chambers of Congress, with the House Republicans having their largest majority in more than 60 years. This allows extreme conservatives to hold presumed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accountable to his campaign promises, and push for draconian measures on issues of abortion, immigration and Obamacare.
While most of the news was bleak from Tuesday’s results, there are still some positive take-aways:
While overall the youth turnout was down, where young people did turn out to vote, progressive issues did really well. Young people and women of color voted in larger numbers than they did in 2010’s mid-term election, and voted for reproductive health champions, likely keeping races closer than they would have otherwise. Young people’s voices will continue to be important for progressive candidates in the 2016 election.
There has never been a better time to change the conversation about abortion, birth control, and other reproductive justice issues. Instead of allowing the conversation to be dragged to the right, let’s to start a new conversation to once again spark imaginations about what strong communities look like, with policies that allow every young person to make healthy decisions.
With the Obama Administration in its final two years, we need to continue to push the Administration to get actual change for young people.
Decisions about issues affecting young people don’t end with the ballot box, so our work can’t end there either!