Ohio's issue 2, by county. Courtesy of KingOfSpades
For Democrats, progressives, labor activists and anyone who thinks that a murder charge is perhaps too heavy a consequence for curing a life-threatening condition such as an ectopic pregnancy, this past Tuesday night was a good night. Issue 2 in Ohio, the popular referendum on whether to enact S.B. 5 and essentially destroy the financial and political power of public employee unions, was crushed, losing in all but six of Ohio's counties. In deep-red Mississippi, voters soundly defeated a vague, extremist piece of legislation that would have defined a fertilized egg as a person—not just banning abortion, but fertility clinics, morning-after pills, perhaps even regular birth control and life-saving medical procedures. In Arizona and Michigan, extremist legislators Russell Pearce and Paul Scott, known for their respective fanaticism against immigrants and teachers' unions, were recalled from office. Democrats had a dominating day in statewide races in Kentucky, had good turnout in the primary in Oregon's First District to determine David Wu's successor, and kept the Iowa Senate in Democratic hands.
The news wasn't all positive; voting rights had a mixed day, as a victory for same-day registration in Maine was tempered by the passage of further restrictions in Mississippi. In addition, it looks like Democrats have lost control of the Virginia House of Delegates. But the narrative of the day is that voters across the country rejected the "overreach" of the Republican Party, as if to say that they lost out on an opportunity for a second date with America's voters because they were just a bit too forward on the first one. This idea was best expressed by humiliated Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who, in admitting that his push for S.B. 5 might have been "too much, too soon," sounded more like a man commiserating with a buddy at a bar about his love life than a governor who had his signature policy move rejected wholesale by the same voters who swept him into office just a year ago.
If Mississippi's personhood amendment, Kasich's anti-union fervor or LePage's eagerness to prevent people from voting were isolated incidents of lone individuals or groups pushing an agenda not only beyond their mandate but beyond the activities of their fellows in other states, then perhaps the notion of overreach would be more apt. But that's not what the Republican Party has shown us since their resurgence at both the federal and state level in 2010.
Personhood amendments couldn't even pass in deep-red states like Mississippi and Alaska, but that isn't stopping the nationwide fundamentalist movement from trying to pass similar legislation in many other states in 2012.
Kasich's failed anti-union effort is certainly no fluke. Republicans at both the federal and state level have been waging a permanent campaign against workers, especially in Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan. Conservatives are even attempting to circulate a petition in California to forbid labor unions from making political contributions while leaving corporations untouched.
Making it harder for Democratic-leaning citizens to vote, however, has been a particular concern for new state legislatures, whose collective action could make it more difficult for over five million eligible voters in at least ten states to cast ballots.
What happened in Mississippi, Ohio and Maine this past Tuesday was not a rejection of local Republican overreach. What happened, rather, was a wholesale rejection of the agenda that the Republican Party is attempting to impose across the country. This is simply who the Republican Party is and what is stands for. Their entire nationwide agenda is an overreach: After being elected out of frustration with a lack of economic recovery, they are attempting to ram through as much of their actual agenda as possible before voters realize what is happening and constrain them.
The biggest mistake Democrats can make at this point is to allow the Republican Party to act chastened by its supposed excesses and to pretend that they have learned their lesson and will be less extremist from now on. Rather, they must push the message relentlessly that Republicans will continue to wage their wars on unions, voting and women without a single thought for jobs or the economy.
Just remember, 2012 voters: No matter how dissatisfied you get with Democrats, and no matter how often Republicans promise that this time, they really are different this time ... they still won't be.