The ’13 elections: A small step to the left

    To those of you who think America is a center-right nation, I now offer a partial corrective. We may indeed be center-right on the fiscal front – the federal sequester cuts at this point seem baked in the cake – but, on social issues and populist economic issues, we seem to moving leftward.

    Because the Tuesday election results, hither and yon, speak for themselves:

    In formerly scarlet-red Virginia, Democratic Terry McAuliffe won the gubernatorial race after campaigning for new curbs on assault rifles, new curbs on high-capacity ammo, and universal background checks on gun buyers. That kind of platform used to be death in Virginia, a state heavily populated by rural gun owners. And a Democrat with an F rating from the NRA used to be dead on arrival. Not anymore.

    Even in New Jersey, where Republican Gov. Chris Christie won re-election in a landslide, voters by a landslide margin also said yes to a referendum raising the state’s minimum wage by a buck to $8.25. Christie had vetoed a bill mandating a similar hike, so the Democratic legislature put it on the ballot.The voters endorsed Christie personally, but more than 60 percent of them disagreed with his standard Republican contention that a minimum wage hike was “just an irresponsible thing to do.”

    In New York Cty, voters, by a margin of 73 to 24 percent, elected the first Democratic mayor since 1989, endorsing Bill De Blasio’s progressive populist assault on income inequality – “the defining challenge of our time” – and his vow to hike taxes on the rich to help pay for early schooling.

    In Washington State, voters in Seattle elected the city’s first openly gay mayor, Ed Murray, a former state senator who led the successful ’12 drive for gay marriage statewide. Murray celebrated on the election night stage with his male spouse.

    In Michigan, voters in three cities agreed to legalize the personal possession of up to an ounce of marijuana (joining Detroit and Flint, which did so last year). In Maine, voters in Portland agreed to legalize marijuana as well, for possession of up to 2.5 ounces (the first East Coast city to do it).

    In formerly red-state Colorado, voters said yes to taxing marijuana, which was legalized there a year ago. Weed has now been incorporated into the budget process. A heavy recreational tax will be slapped on the drug, and much of the revenue will be earmarked for the construction of schools.

    In Illinois, state lawmakers – mindful of the leftward electoral tilt on social issues – agreed on Tuesday to pass a bill legalizing gay marriage. The governor has agreed to sign it, making Illinois the 15th state.

    And in Washington D.C. yesterday, 54 Democratic senators and 10 Republican senators – again, mindful of the leftward national mood – finally voted to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, barring bias against gay people in the workplace. (ENDA was first introduced in 1994, and had been in limbo ever since.) What a sign of the times, yesterday, that virtually none of the 32 nay-saying Republicans rose on the Senate floor to speak in favor of workplace discrimination. Hard to believe it was only nine years ago when Karl Rove deemed it smart politics to gin up vocal opposition to gay marriage.

    But wait – the Republican House leaders have already announced that they won’t let the chamber vote on ENDA. John Boehner and his team still believes that being gay is a fireable offense, despite polls showing that 90 percent of Americans feel otherwise. There it is, that leftward tilt again. If Republicans want to keep losing national elections, they need only buck that tilt and stay in their cocoon.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.