A Huge Night For US Progressives

 
on November 07 2012 12:50 PM

Tuesday night represented a sweeping victory for Democrats, with President Barack Obama decisively winning a second term and the party expanding its Senate majority by prevailing in a series of close races.

But beyond that, Election Day offered a series of historically significant moments for the progressive agenda, from candidates who ascended to office to ballot initiatives that encompassed same-sex marriage, marijuana legalization and tuition for immigrants.

First, the newly elected officials. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a Harvard professor and a vociferous consumer advocate, has over the last few years become a beloved figure among progressives for her unvarnished criticisms of lending abuses, many of them issued as she helped oversee the Troubled Assets Relief Program.

That antagonized Senate Republicans, ensuring she would not lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau agency she was instrumental in creating, but it did free her up to run for the Senate, where she unseated Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass. Supporters now have an elected official who, in the mold of Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, seems unafraid to take on entrenched, unelected powers. Sanders himself, a Democratic socialist, was re-elected with almost three-quarters of the vote Tuesday.

In Wisconsin, Rep. Tammy Baldwin defeated former Gov. Tommy Thompson in her bid for a Senate seat -- thereby becoming the first openly gay member of the Senate (Warren, by the way, is the first woman to represent Massachusetts in the Senate). With the victory of Democrat Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota confirmed Wednesday afternoon, there will be a record 20 women in the next Senate.

Baldwin's victory came on a momentous night for the gay rights movement. Even as polls of the American public show steadily rising support for same-sex marriage, voters who had weighed in on the issue directly voted against same-sex marriage every time -- until now. In more than 30 previous state ballot initiatives, voters either voted against legalizing same-sex marriage or voted in favor of tightening the prohibition (for example, by passing a state constitutional amendment banning it).

That changed on Tuesday. In Maine, Washington and Maryland, voters legalized same-sex marriage; in Minnesota, voters rejected a measure that would have amended the state constitution to dictate that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

Cannabis also had a big night. Massachusetts became the 18th state to allow medical marijuana, while Colorado and Washington went a step further. The amendment passed in Colorado allows residents to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants privately; Washington's unprecedented measure creates a state-regulated system of growers and distributors.

While marijuana advocates praised the victories, conflict is coming. The federal Department of Justice has already launched a crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries in California, underscoring the fact that state laws permitting marijuana use clash with a federal ban on the substance. Colorado and Washington, and potentially Massachusetts, could face clashes of their own.

Immigration advocates also registered a victory with Maryland residents voting to uphold the state's Dream Act, a law that allows undocumented immigrants in that state to qualify for in-state tuition at public universities. Question 4 also passed by a resounding margin in solid-blue Maryland.

By way of contrast, recall that when Texas Gov. Rick Perry defended signing his state's version during the Republican presidential primary ("If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they have been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart,"), he was pummeled by his rivals for the GOP nominarton, hastening his fall from grace.

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