David Dudley is the executive editor of CityLab. He is the former editor in chief of Urbanite magazine and a former features editor for AARP: The Magazine.
The results from state and local ballot initiatives paint a more complex picture of the American electorate.
America, we are now being reminded, is a complicated place. At the state and city level—in states red, blue, and in-between—voters in the 2016 election used the levers of direct democracy to embrace stiffer gun regulations, looser marijuana laws, and lots of ballot initiatives aimed at providing more affordable housing. Two big transit measures, in Los Angeles and Seattle, passed, as did a passel of lesser ones. (More on that from my colleague Laura Bliss.) Also, Donald Trump is president-elect. Let us attempt to sort through this.
Climate and energy
The biggest climate-change related action of the election failed at the ballot box in Washington State: I-732, which would have imposed a rising levy on fossil fuels, divided environmental groups and briefly brought the Sierra Club and Koch Industries on the same side; it lost with 42 percent of the vote. But in Florida, the anti-solar Amendment 1 failed to trick voters into supporting a utility-backed measure that would have limited homeowners’ abilities to install residential solar panels.
Public health measures picked up support in California and Colorado, with three Bay Area cities plus Boulder backing soda taxes that were bitterly opposed by the beverage industry. Jim Krieger, executive director of Healthy Food America, called it “an astonishing repudiation of big soda.” Four states chose to legalize recreational use of marijuana, including Massachusetts—the first East Coast state to do so. Starting December 15, weed’s legal in the Bay State. (Not a minute too soon, perhaps, given the mood-altering needs of the left-leaning Northeast.) It looks like Maine is right behind them, in a very close decision. Only Arizona’s legalization measure failed, and four other states approved medical cannabis use.
From coast to coast, affordable housing and inequality-fighting measures were big winners Tuesday night. Several of San Francisco’s dizzying number of ballot measures were aimed at addressing the city’s housing-price crunch and homelessness problem, while in Baltimore, which is dealing not with sky-high rents but with too many extremely low-income residents, voters agreed to create an affordable housing trust fund that (assuming the city funded it) could go toward rental assistance and the creation of community land trusts. Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington all voted to raise their minimum wage, and South Dakotans rejected an effort to lower minimum wage for workers under 18. (Voters in that latter deep-red state also spanked their payday loan industry.) In New Mexico, a measure that prohibits judges from jailing defendants solely because they can’t afford bail passed with enormous support: As my colleague George Joseph reported yesterday, former attorney general Eric Holder has raised his voice in support of national bail reform efforts, which could represent big economic savings (not to mention fewer civil rights infringements) for several U.S. cities.
For shell-shocked urban voters, such results might not ease their general sense of dismay over the mood of the electorate. But it’s worth noting that the voice of the American voter—despite the overall volume level you may be hearing over the next several days—is not roaring as one over the nation’s path forward.