published Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Payback for over-reaching

Political overreaching always has repercussions. Results Tuesday in scattered elections around the country bear that out. From Maine's cold clime to Mississippi's delta, from Ohio's industrial heartland to Iowa's farm fields to Arizona's desert statehouse, conservatives who overreached against labor unions and public employees, tampered with voting rights, and forced extremist legislation against immigrants and women's reproductive rights were forced to reckon with the payback.

Maine's voters reacted to a Republican attempt to suppress future voter turnout -- for two years a staple of the Republicans' national agenda for state legislatures, including Tennessee's -- by overturning recently adopted state legislation that barred the long-standing rights of Maine's citizens to register as a voter on Election Day. Maine's citizens had enjoyed the right of same-day registration for 40 years. They reasonably decided that the Legislature's needless move to abolish that convenience could wrongly rob voters of their most vital civic right.

Mississippians rallied against anti-abortion extremists who widely expected to pass a statewide referendum defining a fertilized human egg as a legal "person." The Amendment 26 personhood initiative would have flatly challenged the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling allowing early-trimester abortions. It also would have banned the use of several popular forms of contraception, and threatened medical fertility practices involving the use of in-vitro fertilized eggs in women wanting children. Voters in Mississippi, arguably the most conservative state in the nation, realized the grasping right-wings' reach for overweening control of women's reproductive rights and defeated the amendment by a surprising 3-to-2 margin.

Equally notable was Ohioans' overwhelming vote to overrule Republican Gov. John Kasich's spiteful repeal of police and firemen's union bargaining rights. The governor ushered legislation through the state's newly Republican-controlled legislature to strip their unions' bargaining rights. The successful referendum to overturn that brazen affront, advocated by Democrats and a broad coalition of citizens' groups who opposed the governor's bashing of public employees, clearly expressed their disdain for his unfair treatment.

Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, a tea party favorite who pushed Arizona's notorious anti-immigration legislation through the Legislature, became the nation's first sitting state Senate president, and the first Arizona legislator, to be ousted on a recall petition. His ouster was especially telling: It reflected wide discontent with the mean harshness of the anti-immigrant legislation that he advocated, which treated immigrants so unfairly and weakened Arizona's economy and allure to businesses and tourism.

Pearce's fall to a milder-mannered Republican, Jerry Lewis, should send a message to Alabama's equally harsh immigrant bashers. Their new anti-immigration law, which has overtaken Arizona's for meanness, is already undermining Alabama's $5 billion agricultural industry and compelling legal immigrants to flee the state due to growing discrimination.

In Iowa -- and possibly Virginia -- voters thwarted Republicans' attempt to take control of the state Senate. The obstacle voters erected to the GOP march there suggests that Iowa voters are rethinking the sort of knee-jerk change that they, like voters elsewhere, put in motion last year in the midterm elections that bolstered extremist tea party views.

Tuesday's election results, to be sure, do not suggest an easier path for Democrats in next year's elections, but they do offer support and hope for advocates of centrist policies that respect vital public employees, and the need for policies and an engaged government that work to build up the middle class, rather than to divide and tear it down just to satisfy a myopic anti-government ideology.

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