Election 2011: From ‘Personhood’ to Collective Bargaining, Issues Have National Implications

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One year away from the 2012 election, voters across the country will cast their ballots Tuesday for issues that could have implications beyond the next election cycle.

From weakening labor laws to defining a human being, multiple ballot initiatives have garnered national attention and could boost voter turnout, which is typically low in an off-year election.

Here’s a look at the major races and issues on the ballot Tuesday:

Mississippi – Personhood Amendment

Mississippians will vote on a controversial citizen-led initiative Tuesday that would impose the country’s tightest regulations yet on abortion and birth control.

The ambiguous “personhood” amendment defines human life as starting at “the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.” If implemented, the measure, which is defined broadly and without many specifics, could go as far as to restrict certain birth control methods and in vitro fertilization treatments, which can put the fetus at risk. It would ban abortion completely.

The amendment goes even farther than what anti-abortion proponents advocate, which is to define life at conception and allow abortion in cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is danger.

The measure creates a challenge for moderate Republicans, who don’t want to appear as abortion rights supporters, but fear that supporting Initiative 26 would invite a backlash from women’s rights groups who say the measure is too suppressive.

Outgoing Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour Friday voted for the measure, even though he said he struggled with the decision and had “some concerns about it.”

The personhood amendment hasn’t had much success yet – it was defeated twice in Colorado – but it’s gaining momentum, especially in southern states. The outcome in Mississippi Tuesday could set the tone for other states.

Ohio – Collective Bargaining

Ohio is experiencing a repeat of the Wisconsin labor protests as voters prepare to make a decision on the collective bargaining measure that, if passed, could affect hundreds of thousands of public employees.

Issue 2 overturns the current laws pertaining to union workers. It would eliminate public employees’ right to collectively bargain for health insurance and pensions, bar them from striking – workers would pay a price from their paycheck if they do so – and curb promotions based on seniority. It would also increase health care costs for workers. Employees would have to pay at least 15 percent of their health care premiums and allocate 10 percent of their salary for pensions. It goes one step farther than the controversial Wisconsin measure by including police and firefighters.

The move is the latest in an attempt by Republican governors to slash the budget. Proponents of the plan say it would cut costs for the state, which is facing an $8 billion budget deficit.

Opponents, however, charge that it unfairly targets state workers who are already paying high premiums for health insurance, and that targeting teachers, police and firefighters would hamper their ability to serve citizens. Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland has dubbed the provision as part of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” that wants to strip “working people of our rights.”

Fifty-seven percent of Ohioans supported repealing the law, according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted in October.

Voting Rights:

Several states are mulling changes to voting requirements that have upset liberals.

Maine will feature a ballot initiative – Question 1 – that would require new voters to register to vote at least two business days prior to an election. Under current law, voters can register on voting day. Liberals have blasted the measure as an infringement on voters’ rights.

In Mississippi, voters will cast their decision on a ballot measure that requires people to submit government-sponsored photo ID before being allowed to vote. The measure is backed by Republicans who say it will stop election fraud. Democrats, however, have blasted the initiative, saying it will inadvertently reduce voter turnout and discourage people of color from coming to the polls.

The state of Washington is mulling a constitutional amendment that would overturn a law requiring residents to have lived in the state for 60 days to vote in the presidential election. The measure has gained widespread support and is expected to pass. It passed unanimously in both the state House and Senate.

State Budgets:

As states struggle with budget shortfalls, several are considering proposals to raise their cash flow. From Louisiana to Washington, budget measures are headlining the ballots.

Several amendments that would direct more funds to the state passed in Louisiana last week.

But even as states are pressured by the economic downturn, tax increases remain unpopular. In Colorado, attempts to raise the sales and income taxes to help public schools failed last week.

Gubernatorial Races:

In Mississippi, the race is on to replace GOP favorite Haley Barbour, a moderate Republican who is barred from running again under the state’s term limit laws. The seat is likely to remain in GOP hands, with Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant leading the race. Bryant is challenged by Democrat and mayor of Hattiesburg, Johnny DuPree, who has focused on jobs and education in his campaign. But Bryant’s anti-Washington, anti-taxation message appears to be more appealing to voters.

Democrats are expected to keep the governor’s seat in Kentucky, where incumbent Steve Beshear is vying for a second term. Beshear and rival David Williams have attacked each other on a wide array of issues, including education and job creation. In a state where President Obama’s popularity has plunged, Beshear’s win would be a boon to Democrats, who lost multiple states to Republicans last year and, in Kentucky, lost to unconventional candidates such as Rand Paul, who won a Senate seat in 2010.

Democrats scored another victory in West Virginia last month, where Earl Ray Tomblin narrowly won the special election to replace Joe Manchin, who is now a U.S. senator.

But Republicans have kept the scorecard tied. Gov. Bobby Jindal won a second term last month by a landslide.

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