November 3, 2015; Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY)

Earlier this week were a number of off-year elections, but many contests and ballot initiatives got scarce coverage in the TV news cycle, overshadowed by the internecine battles of the Republican candidates to change the rules on future television debates (no hard questions, lower room temperature, easy-to-get-to toilets, etc.). If you look hard, some elections spoke to nonprofit concerns that have been featured in the NPQ Newswire.

  • Kentucky vs. the ACA: In Kentucky, Matt Bevin had previously tried to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, ostensibly because the senior senator had on occasion cooperated with Democrats to reach accommodations such as budget deals to keep the federal government functioning. Bevin lost to McConnell in the last election, but this time around he won by a surprisingly healthy vote total the state’s gubernatorial contest, replacing term-limited Democratic governor Steve Beshear. Although on the campaign stump he displayed scant knowledge about healthcare reform, Bevin is a diehard opponent of the Affordable Care Act and likely to undo Beshear’s expansion of Medicaid and to shut down the state health insurance exchange, Kynect. Under Governor Beshear’s expansion of Medicaid and sponsorship of a state exchange, Kentucky’s uninsured population had dropped from 20.4 percent to 9 percent, something of a success story in health insurance reform to anyone other than ideological opponents like Bevin. Regan Hunt of Kentucky Voices for Health expressed a concern that Bevin’s planned shutdowns would be “chaotic,” and the Foundation for Healthy Kentucky pledged to monitor closely whatever Bevin tries to do once he takes office.
  • Monopolistic marijuana: In Ohio, NBA Hall of Fame superstar Oscar Robertson, boy-band member Nick Lachey, and some descendants of President William Howard Taft supported and helped fund advocacy for a ballot initiative to legalize recreational and edible marijuana for persons over 21. The initiative lost despite the promise of its backers that 55 percent of the marijuana taxes would go to cities and townships and 30 percent to counties for infrastructure and public safety improvements. The big flaw is that the two dozen or so backers of the initiative would be the only permitted growers and distributors, leading other marijuana advocates to oppose the initiative as a “marijuana monopoly” subterfuge.
  • Latino political resurgence: The City Council of Yakima, Washington, elected its first two Latinos ever. What makes this significant is that the Latino population in eastern Washington has been growing by leaps and bounds, but Latinos have long been politically invisible, often gerrymandered out of potential election representation. As of 2010, the Latino population of the city of Yakima surpassed 41 percent, up from 33.7 percent in 2000. The election result suggests a surge of Latino electoral involvement that national candidates prone to taking anti-immigration, anti-Latino stances must recognize.
  • Campaign finance innovations: Campaign finance reform passed in different forms in jurisdictions from coast to coast. In Portland, Maine, voters approved an initiative to reform the state’s Clean Elections program to provide larger amounts of state financing for candidates who eschew raising private campaign donations. In the previous formula for the state’s clean elections, which allowed Clean Election candidates to continue to raise small contributions, the amount of public campaign financing was simply too low for the candidates to compete with privately financed politicians. The new initiative raises the public campaign funding to a maximum of $3.2 million for gubernatorial candidates (up from $1 million), $65,000 for state senate candidates (up from $25,483 previously), and $16,500 for state house candidates (up from $5,366). Seattle voters approved a radically new approach to campaign finance reform, endorsing initiative I-122 that would enable Seattle voters to use taxpayer-funded “democracy vouchers.” Each voter would get four $25 vouchers each election cycle from the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission for use in elections for mayor, city council, and city attorney. Candidates who want to receive campaign voucher funding would have to agree to I-122 rules regarding participating in three debates and accepting lower spending and fundraising limits. Oddly, the democracy vouchers campaign raised nearly a record amount for a ballot initiative, about 55 percent of which came from out-of-state contributors, and 30 times as much as the amount raised by opponents. Among the major donors to Honest Elections Seattle were investment banker Sean Eldridge (husband of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes) who contributed $200,000; the Washington, D.C.-based Every Voice, which contributed $380,000; and the Washington Community Action Network, which gave more than $313,000 to the over $1.3 million raised in the campaign.
  • The power of Airbnb: Do you think that Airbnb is just a tiny effort of people who have some space available for short-term rentals? In San Francisco, the parent Airbnb company (valued at some $25 billion) spent a whopping $8 million to defeat a regulation that would have reduced the maximum amount of short-term rental days a unit could be rented out from 90 to 75, required Airbnb hosts to notify neighbors of their rental plans, and mandated submission of quarterly reports from the Airbnb unit owners. Proponents of the regulation asserted that it would reduce some of the pressure on San Francisco’s skyrocketing rental housing costs. Opponents, including Democratic lieutenant governor and former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom countered that Proposition F was simply an effort of big hotel chains to block competition from middle-class homeowners. The ballot initiative lost, but 45 percent of the voters voted for it.
  • Mixed results for school privatization: Back to the Bluegrass State, the victorious Matt Bevin also campaigned as a strong supporter of charter schools and school vouchers, pledging to support a black ministers’ group calling for charter school authorization. In Colorado, however, three conservative members of the Jefferson County School Board who were all supporters of expanding charter schools and vouchers were turned out of office.
  • Elected nonprofit types: Among the nonprofit leaders who won elections this week were the founder of Coney Island Generation Gap, Pam Harris, for a state assembly seat in Brooklyn, N.Y.; city council candidate Shelly Masur (Californians Dedicated to Education Foundation and the Bay Area Partnership) in Redwood City, California; Potter County, Pennsylvania commissioner Susan Kefover, who had previously run the Galeton Development Corporation; for the Aurora, Colorado school board Monica Colbert, the development director of the Carson J. Spencer Foundation; and Peggy Flanagan, the executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota, who won a seat in the state house of representatives.

NPQ would like to hear from its readers about the most important election results they experienced with specific meaning for the nonprofit sector. Let us know through the comment button on this article.—Rick Cohen