How Did Workers and Campaign Finance Reform Fare During This Past Election?

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Right to work legislation, minimum wage laws, and public financing of elections were at stake on many state ballots

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Story Transcript

KIM BROWN, TRNN: Election night 2016 not only brought us president-elect Donald Trump and the guarantee of a new republican controlled congress but on the same level, voters made their voices heard on a plethora of issues including campaign finance reform, minimum wage, and right to work.

JOSH HOXIE: What happens in right to work states is that the state legislature says that if you are – you do not have to join a labor union if you employer has labor union work there. Which means that all of the benefits that come along with a labor union don’t go back into the union. So, things like collective bargaining, things like better healthcare. Things that if you ask 7/10 workers they want to be a member of a labor union. Currently just 1 in 10 are a member of a labor union. So these right to work states exist. There are 26 of them, most of them in the south have lower wages, they have less healthcare coverage, overall all lower quality of life in these right to work states.

BROWN: Two states, Alabama and Virginia, had right to work initiatives on their ballots. But hold on, both of these states are already right to work states.

HOXIE: But that’s not enough in Alabama and Virginia just having these statutes on the books that say you have the right to work in Alabama and Virginia, they’re trying to cement their right to work status into their state constitution so they can never be overturned.

BROWN: That is exactly what will now happen in Alabama. As amendment 8, as it was known, passed overwhelmingly. It was a different story in Virginia however, as voters there defeated constitutional amendment 1 by a much narrower margin.

Another election day issue important to American workers is the minimum wage. Colorado, Arizona, Washington state and Maine, all approved a raise in their state minimum wage by the year 2020, then cost of living increases after that. One state however, South Dakota, actually sought to scale down the minimum wage for youth workers.

Referendum 20 would’ve taken a dollar an hour away from workers under the age of 18. It did not pass.

States and municipalities concerned over the influence of money and politics put a hand full of campaign finance reform measures on their ballots. Howard County, Maryland being one of them.

LARRY STAFFORD JR.: So, in Howard County, we’re working to pass through a ballot initiative creating a small donor incentive fund that will help match contributions that are under $150 and that will be for candidates who chose not to take big corporate money and not try to run campaigns based on how many millionaires or billionaires can give them checks but instead opt in to take small contributions from people who live in Howard County. So, trying to return the power of our elections back to regular everyday people.

BROWN: That measured passed and at the state level, South Dakota, Washington state, and California all had initiatives to attempt to reign in the influence of money on elections.

SPEAKER: So, there’s a group called Represent Us, that has really come out against corruption and against public financing and a lot of kind of electoral reforms that they’ll like to see in multiple states and jurisdictions. This year they’re supporting two statewide initiatives. One in Washington and one in South Dakota. The one in South Dakota in particular has gotten interesting because the group that was backed by the Koch brothers and other conservative heavyweight donors has come in and said we don’t want this measure.

The measure does a lot of different things. It bans certain lobbyists, gifts to politicians. It requires more disclosure for political gifts and it also creates this system of public financing for elections using what are called democracy credits where each voter will get a certain amount of money to give to a candidate of their choice. That was the same system that they’re proposing in Washington as well.

BROWN: For the Real News Network in Baltimore, I’m Kim Brown.

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