By Barrington M. Salmon
(Trice Edney Wire) – By most measures, the Republican Party got an old-fashioned beating by an American electorate who rejected the current iteration of the Republican Party, Trumpism and the party’s extremist MAGA agenda.
Across 37 states, Nov. 7, Americans voted for governors, judges, school boards and local ballot initiatives in what is called an “off year” or non-presidential election. By Wednesday morning, Democrats – with its base of Black voters – emerged as winners in Kentucky, Ohio and Virginia. Perhaps the most consequential result was in Ohio where an unusual coalition of Democrats, Republicans, liberals, moderates and conservatives, young and old, passed Issue 1 – 57 percent to 43 – which enshrines abortion and reproductive rights into Ohio’s constitution.
“One thing we’re seeing in terms of abortions and some other issues is that there is real anger around what (former President Donald) Trump and the Supreme Court did,” said Bill Fletcher, prominent labor union leader, former president of TransAfrica Forum and a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies. “It’s also playing out in Ohio and Kansas. It’s kind of a popular rejection of male authority. I think this is fantastic. And the school board losses show that it has gone but so far.”
Law Professor Kami Chavis concurred.
“Honestly, to me, it’s not surprising because when you look at most of the polls, they tell you that America is not in favor of restrictions. These views cross the political spectrum,” said Chavis, the R. Hugh and Nolie Haynes Professor of Law and Director of the W&M Center of Criminal Justice Policy and Reform at William & Mary Law School. “We do not want the pendulum to swing too far. We don’t want to go back to women in back alleys, or in this time, having to travel so far to get reproductive healthcare.”
The string of electoral losses by Republicans since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade last year is clear evidence of the extreme public displeasure and resistance to what the court and far-right elements have been pushing, pundits and critics said. According to the Washington Post, whenever abortion rights positions have appeared on the ballot, they have won 75 percent of the time across more than 50 polls and two dozen states.
“Opposition to criminalizing doctors and erecting other barriers to women’s reproductive health should be a message to Republicans and anti-abortion policymakers,” said Chavis, a constitutional Law professor with a law degree from Harvard Law School. She is a former assistant US attorney for the District of Columbia.
Meanwhile, in Virginia, Democrats won full control of the state legislature by holding their majority in the Senate and seizing control of the House of Delegates. These wins denied Gov. Glenn Youngkin an electoral trifecta and the power to impose his conservative agenda. The governor had promised a 15-week abortion ban as a “sensible compromise,” but Democrats fought back with ads and statements which tied Youngkin to the extremist faction of the GOP.
Political experts and pundits said that although Virginia voters didn’t have to vote directly for or against abortion rights, the contentious, divisive and consequential issue infused all the campaigns. Of particular importance reproductive rights activists and supporters said, is the fact that Virginia has become the last southern sanctuary and refuge for those seeking access to legal abortions and reproductive care.
Controlling the General Assembly will give Democrats the numbers and leverage to block fundamental portions of Youngkin and the GOP’s conservative agenda. Democrats are expected to introduce constitutional amendments for voters to enshrine abortion rights into the state’s constitution and end the permanent disenfranchisement of returning citizens with felony convictions.
With the electoral shift, House Minority Leader Don Scott (D-Portsmouth) is poised to become the first Black speaker in the House’s more than 400-year history.
“We’ve been telling you all since day one that Democrats had the message, the candidates, and the momentum to put a stop to the extreme Republicans’ agenda,” Scott said during a victory speech in Richmond.
Chavis said the off-year election results left her hopeful and optimistic. She also lauded wins by African Americans in Rhode Island (Gabe Amo, elected the state’s first Black congressman); and Cherelle Parker, 51, chosen as Philadelphia’s 100th mayor. She is the Black and the first woman to ascend to that position.
“(Parker’s win) is adding to Black mayors in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago,” Chavis said. They are not getting elected because they represent Black interests. They represent broad cross-sections of our country. I think we really can’t separate this from greater representation across the politic spectrum. It’s good to see. It’s not healthy or sustainable that one party only represents one ethnic or racial group.”
Voting Rights and social justice activist Cliff Albright said these victories were made possible by sustained work by devoted activists in the trenches.
“As we reflect on the events of Tuesday, one thing is clear – local elections matter and your voices matter,” said Albright, co-founder and executive director of BlackVotersMatter (BVM) in an email statement. “Black voters impacted key races and were victorious on several critical issues: In Kentucky, we supported partners like KY BLACK, KY Commonwealth Alliance Voter Engagement (CAVE), VOCAL, NAACP, Until Freedom and others to get out the vote for the governor’s race targeting key cities such as Louisville, Frankfort, and Lexington. In Virginia, voters helped retain control of the Senate and helped take back the House, preventing any abortion ban. Candidates won in 3 out of 5 house districts that BVM targeted, including the competitive HD (House District) 97 which produced the decisive 51st Democratic seat.”
Albright said BVM supported the work of partners such as the Ohio Unity Coalition with canvassing, texting, and phone banking.
“In Ohio, voters were able to pass two ballot referendums. The first enshrined a constitutional right to abortion and the second legalized recreational marijuana use,” he said.
Albright said 83 percent of Black Ohioans voted in the affirmative for the abortion issue, while African-Americans were 72 percent of those who voted for legalization of recreational marijuana.
During an interview with a Trice Edney reporter, Albright said his organization has been working “to change the discourse, change the narrative and lean into power we already have.”
“The issues that we focus are largely issues that affect the Black community. When we come up everybody comes up on voting rights, economic justice and Medicaid expansion,” said Albright. “There’s no point in US history where Black folks didn’t advance our interests that didn’t advance the nation. It’s about everybody being able to advance. The way we organize is to focus on Black-led organizations that serve the Black community, but we do this in partnership with organizations on the ground.”
Albright – a 2020 Soros Fellow who has been deeply involved in the activist-led efforts and a lawsuit that forced the redrawing of a congressional district map in Alabama – said he usually doesn’t spend much time celebrating because those white supremacists in politics and elsewhere are always working to cook up voter suppression strategies designed to rob African Americans’ constitutional rights. He said he’s acutely aware of the games certain legislators and policymakers play, all with the intent of blocking any attempts by he, fellow activists and voting rights advocates who are working to bring parity and justice to the electoral process.
“They are trying to take away our votes. They are not guided by commonsense, justice or rightness,” said Albright. “We see anti-Black white supremacy in the Alabama legislature. White supremacy never takes a day off. It’s always playing the long game. When you’re in power, you can play the long game.”