Election Day 2011: Liberals Victorious as ‘Personhood’ Initiative, Collective Bargaining Measure Are Defeated

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Democrats scored major victories in today’s election as two controversial GOP-backed measures — the “personhood” initiative in Mississippi and changes to collective bargaining rights by unions in Ohio — were defeated by voters.

Today’s results signal that voters are more focused on issues that impact their daily lives rather than ideological battles.

“Voters don’t seem particularly interested in ideological battles that have little impact on their core concerns about fixing the economy and creating jobs,” said ABC News’ Political Director Amy Walter. “Democrats will also argue that talk of anemic support from their base, especially in the key battleground state of Ohio, has been overstated.”

The “ personhood” measure in Mississippi was an ambiguously worded citizen-led initiative that defined human life as starting at “the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”

The measure would’ve restricted certain birth control methods and in vitro fertilization treatment, and would’ve banned all abortion. It was expected to win but opposition against it built up as the measure gained national attention.

Abortion rights activists charged that the initiative is the biggest assault on women’s rights to date. They hailed the defeat of the initiative as a victory for women and their constitutional rights.

Keith Mason, the founder of Personhood USA, the group behind the initiative, said he will continue to advocate for it despite its defeat.

Anti-abortionists had been mixed on the issue. Outgoing Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour voted for the initiative but he said he struggled with that decision and had “had “some concerns about it.” Most anti-abortionists believe that human life begins at conception and support allowing it in the case of rape, incest and if the mother’s life is in danger. Initiative 26 took the definition much farther, and some conservative groups were concerned that, if it was taken up by the Supreme Court, it would’ve hampered their ability to overturn Roe v. Wade by shifting the discussion.

Similar initiatives by Parenthood USA, which is behind Initiative 26, have been unsuccessful. The measure was voted down twice in Colorado, in 2008 and 2010.

Most conservatives in the state legislature supported the measure, including gubernatorial candidate Phil Bryant who won the election today.

Liberals appeared to be unsuccessful in their efforts to defeat a ballot measure in Mississippi that would require people to submit government-sponsored photo ID before being allowed to vote. The measure was backed by Republicans who said it will stop election fraud. Democrats, however, had blasted the initiative, saying it will reduce voter turnout and discourage people of color from coming to the polls.

Ohio Voters Defeat Collective Bargaining Amendment:

Labor groups won a surprising victory in Ohio, and defeated a ballot measure that attempted to cut back collective bargaining rights for union workers and would have affected hundreds of thousands of public employees.

Labor unions and the White House were closely monitoring the measure, which could signal how much influence unions have in the 2012 election.

Issue 2 would’ve eliminate public employees’ right to collectively bargain for health insurance and pensions, bar them from striking – workers would’ve paid a price from their paycheck if they do so – and curbed promotions based on seniority. It would’ve also increased health care costs for workers. Employees would have had to pay at least 15 percent of their health care premiums and allocate 10 percent of their salary for pensions. It went one step farther than the controversial Wisconsin measure — which was the first to curb rights for union workers — by including police and firefighters.

The public fight between union workers and Republicans led to millions of dollars being poured into the state.

Republicans, including Gov. John Kasich, said such cuts are needed to balance the budget. The state is facing an $8 billion budget deficit. But opponents blasted the measure as a “vast right-wing conspiracy” and said it unfairly targets state workers who are already paying high premiums for health insurance and that targeting police and firefighters would hamper their ability to serve citizens.

AFL-CIO’s President Richard Trumka hailed the defeat of Issue 2 tonight.

“Ohio sent a message to every politician out there: Go in and make war on your employees rather than make jobs with your employees, and you do so at your own peril,” he said.

The Ohio ballot measure is indirectly a huge test for President Obama. His campaign is closely watching efforts there — particularly turnout by labor members — to gauge how active they may be next year, and whether they’ll have a shot in a state that has swung to the right since 2008.

Voting Rights:

As Mississippi passed a new law that would require voters to submit their ID, voters in Maine overwhelmingly voted against a ballot initiative — Question 1 — that would’ve required 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 had blasted the measure as an infringement on voters’ rights.

State Budgets:

As states struggle with budget shortfalls, several considered proposals to raise their cash flow. From Louisiana to Washington, budget measures headlined 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 remained unpopular. In Colorado, attempts to raise the sales and income taxes to help public schools failed last week.

Gubernatorial Races:

The balance of power between the two parties will stay the same, as expected.

In Mississippi, Republicans kept the gubernatorial seat. Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant defeated Johnny DuPree, mayor of Hattiesburg. DuPree had focused on jobs and education in his campaign. But Bryant’s anti-Washington, anti-taxation message appeared to be more appealing to voters. Unlike other races, the gubernatorial race in Mississippi was devoid of negative attacks, a move that Bryant said will set the tone for other states.

Barbour, Mississippi’s current governor, was barred from running again under the state’s term limit laws.

Meanwhile, Democrats kept the governor’s seat in Kentucky, where incumbent Steve Beshear was vying for a second term. Beshear and rival David Williams had 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 is 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.