A few isolated thoughts on last night’s election. I am relieved by the fact that it was not a close election. If it had been, we could have quite a mess on our hands. The votes in several states are astonishingly close and if Obama’s lead were within the range where those states could swing the election, we would be having 2000 all over again — only worse.
In North Carolina, Obama won by only 12,000 votes. In Indiana, his lead is only 23,000 votes. In Missouri, McCain leads by a mere 6,000 votes. If Obama was sitting on 298 electoral votes rather than 338 (without those states included in the tally), we would no doubt be hearing a demand for recounts that would throw the outcome of the election in doubt and we would be facing Florida times three.
That is already likely to happen in some non-presidential races. In Minnesota, for example, the Senate race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman remains a nail biter. With 99% of precincts reporting, Coleman leads by less than 800 votes out of almost 2.5 million cast. There will almost certainly be a recount there.
Ted Stevens appears to have been reelected to the Senate despite his recent conviction on federal corruption charges. As ridiculous as that is to, frankly, anyone with a brain, I think this opens up an opportunity for Sarah Palin. The Senate will likely expel Stevens early next year, which means Alaska will have to call a special election to fill his seat. If she wants to make a serious run at the White House, she needs to go to the Senate where she can be a national figure rather than the governor of a remote state.
Michigan passed both ballot proposals, one to legalize the medical use of marijuana and the other to legalize stem cell research, both by fairly comfortable margins. This is a good thing, in my view. Unfortunately, the federal government can still enforce the Controlled Substances Act in this state against medical marijuana users despite the new law, even if people have a prescription. In California, which has a similar law, people are still arrested and jailed even though they are fully licensed by the state to distribute it and even if they the patients have a prescription to receive it.
You can thank the Supreme Court for that, by the way. In Gonzales v Raich, the 2005 case over California’s medical marijuana law, the court handed down one of the worst rulings in its history. And in case you think this is a liberal or conservative issue, you may be surprised to hear how the vote broke down. All four liberals on the court (Justices Breyer, Stevens, Ginsburg and Souter) voted in favor of allowing the federal government to continue to arrest and prosecute users of medical marijuana despite state law. They were joined by the more moderate Justice Kennedy and the arch-conservative Justice Scalia. Only Justices O’Connor, Rehnquist and Thomas dissented.
There may be some reason to hope that under Barack Obama the federal Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency will find other priorities and stop going after sick people who are only following their state laws to find some relief from their pain, but keep in mind that Joe Biden is the most zealous of drug warriors. He is the primary architect of the asset forfeiture laws that allow the government to seize any assets they think are even remotely connected to the use or distribution of drugs, even if they never actually convict or even charge the person with any crime. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
Speaking of courts, the defeat of Michigan Supreme Court Justice Cliff Taylor by Diane Hathaway has to rank among the most significant and surprising things to happen last night. Taylor had incumbency on his side along with a massive war chest (he raised more money than any judicial candidate had ever raised in this state, breaking his own record) and the overwhelming support of Republicans and the business community. He is a virtual icon among conservatives, not just in Michigan but around the country as well. I can’t help but think that Elizabeth Weaver, a fellow Republican who has long feuded with Taylor, is smiling right now.
The victory for stem cell research brings Michigan out of the 19th century. I was astonished to find out only a few months ago that Michigan actually made it a felony for researchers to develop new stem cell lines in this state. Last night’s victory for Proposal 2 is a win for science, reason and the victims of many terrible diseases. And it should make life a lot easier for at least one stem cell researcher from the University of Michigan, who has had to do her work in a lab in California because of the Michigan laws that were overturned last night.
Sadly, this was not a good night for equality. California’s Prop 8, which overturns a state Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriage, appears to have passed. In one of the most disturbing statistics I’ve ever heard, 95% of African-Americans in California voted for Barack Obama but 69% of them also voted to deny equal rights to gay and lesbian couples. Are memories so short? Only last year we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that overturned state bans on interracial marriage, a tremendous moment for equality and civil rights.
That’s not the only cloud in this silver lining. Arizona and Florida also passed bans on gay marriage in those states, while Arkansas passed a referendum prohibiting gay couples from adopting children. And we can lay this one almost entirely at the feet of religion-inspired bigotry. In California, exit polls showed that those who attended church regularly voted against marriage equality 83-17%. Those who attended church only occasionally voted for marriage equality 60-40%. Those who do not attend church at all voted for marriage equality 86-14%. There is still much work to be done.