Election Day 2015 turned into a banner night for conservatives, as voters signaled a backlash against liberal politicians and the left-wing cultural agenda.
Matt Bevin became just the third Republican elected governor in Kentucky since World War II. Republican David Vitter secured a spot in a gubernatorial runoff in Louisiana. Voters in Houston blocked a City Council action derided by critics as the “bathroom ordinance,” and Ohioans put the brakes on Big Marijuana’s recent winning streak.
Conservatives even got a win of sorts in San Francisco, where a no-compromise supporter of the city’s immigration sanctuary policies lost his bid for re-election as sheriff.
Making sweeping interpretations based on low-turnout elections in a handful of states in an off year can be a risky proposition. More than once, a party has enjoyed unexpected success the year before a presidential election only to be disappointed when that race rolls around.
Still, conservatives are likely to take Tuesday’s voting as a positive sign heading into next year’s critical presidential election.
Bevin unsuccessfully challenged Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell in last year’s GOP Senate primary. Trailing in polls the entire campaign for governor, he pulled out a victory by a surprisingly wide margin on a platform that included attacks on Planned Parenthood and Obamacare.
Vitter finished second to Democrat John Bel Edwards in Louisiana’s open “jungle primary.” Polls, though, have suggested he would lose the head-to-head runoff on Nov. 21 with the Democratic state representative.
In San Francisco, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi lost to former Chief Deputy Vicki Hennessy, who has vowed to rescind Mirkarimi’s “gag order” that effectively prohibits most communication or cooperation with federal immigration authorities. The “sanctuary city” debate plays out against the backdrop of this summer’s killing of Kate Steinle, allegedly by an illegal immigrant.
If voters in famously liberal San Francisco will turn out an incumbent because of immigration, it could be a bad sign for open-borders Democrats and Republicans who have struck a more moderate tone on the issue.
Perhaps a better gauge of the state of the culture will be a raft of state and local ballot initiatives. Here are some of the biggest:
• Marijuana. Supporters of legalizing marijuana had enjoyed a winning streak. But Ohio voters rejected a bid to legalize medical and recreational use of the drug and grant just 10 licenses for the exclusive right to produce it commercially. So corrupt has the proposal appeared that it has drawn opposition even from some groups ideologically predisposed to support marijuana legalization.
Voters in Portage in Michigan’s Kalamazoo County appear to have narrowly approved a measure to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, but the results were close enough that the result is likely to be challenged.
• Houston’s bathroom ordinance. Officially Proposition 1, the referendum rejected the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO).
It drew opposition because of the strong-arm tactics of the liberal lesbian Mayor Annise Parker — at one point, she tried to subpoena the texts of preachers’ sermons — and because many feel it represented a radical intrusion on privacy in public restrooms. The ordinance would have codified the right of people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.
It also would have prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in private employment, housing, city contracts and pubic services.
• Short-term rentals. San Francisco voters defeated Proposition F, sometimes called the “Airbnb Initiative,” that would have allowed the city to penalize the short-term rental platform for violating rules against short-term rentals. The company spent $8 million fighting the initiative. Many people use the site to rent out their homes to vacationers. Critics of the government have compared the city’s desire to regulate Airbnb to jurisdictions that have cracked down on innovations like Uber.
• Minimum-wage hikes. Voters in two cities —Tacoma, Washington, and Portland, Maine — decided whether to raise the minimum wage at the local level, as Los Angeles, Seattle and other cities have in recent years. Portland voters by a 58-42 margin rejected a bid to raise the local minimum wage to $15 per hour. Voters in Tacoma narrowly approved a minimum-wage hike, but overwhelming picked $12 per hour rather than $15.
The votes could mean that Americans, despite concerns over income inequality, believe that mandating $15 an hour for low-skill jobs goes too far.