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Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014: Beginning of the End for the GOP

When it comes to issues, progressives and liberals made considerable gains in 2014. (photo: AP)
When it comes to issues, progressives and liberals made considerable gains in 2014. (photo: AP)

By Scott Galindez, Reader Supported News
26 December 14
readersupportednews.org

rogressives and liberals made huge gains on many fronts in 2014. Of course, the Congressional elections were a nightmare, but that’s because the Democrats once again had no unifying message. They distanced themselves from an unpopular president instead of presenting an agenda for progress.

On the local level and in the courts, however, progress was made. While Americans voted for candidates who opposed what they believe in, when asked to vote on the issues they voted for a progressive agenda.

Marriage Equality
Marriage equality continues to grow by leaps and bounds, not only across the nation but around the globe.

This year we saw 19 states win marriage equality – compared to eight in 2013 – for a total of 35 states plus Washington D.C. With the addition of Scotland, Luxembourg and Finland, there are now 20 countries with nationwide marriage equality.

In the U.S. there was a notable increase in marriage equality states in 2014, expanding from 34 percent to 64 percent in just one year. Gallup puts support for marriage equality at 55 percent – a 15-point increase in just five years.

Momentum is on our side, and Republicans who continue to fight against marriage equality are finding themselves on the wrong side of the issue and continuing to alienate a significant block of voters. Democrats could make equality a national issue and gain momentum at the ballot box.

Minimum Wage
On New Year’s Day, 21 states will implement minimum wage increases that are estimated to boost the incomes of 4.4 million low-paid workers, according to an analysis of Census data by the Economic Policy Institute. For the first time, as a result of these increases, a majority of states – 29, plus the District of Columbia – will have minimum wages that surpass the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Of the 21 states with minimum wage increases on New Year’s Day, four (Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota) approved the increases through ballot measures in the 2014 elections. When the issue is put before the voters, they pass minimum wage increases by large margins. Raising wages is another issue that a Democratic Party with backbone could ride to substantial electoral gains.

Marijuana Legalization
In 2014, 36 state legislatures had bills under consideration to create new medical marijuana laws, to impose only a fine for possession of marijuana, and/or to regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol. Several of those proposals were enacted. Three states — Maryland, Minnesota, and New York — passed effective medical marijuana laws this year, while Maryland, Missouri, and the District of Columbia’s legislative bodies replaced possible jail time with fines for simple possession of marijuana. Eleven states approved bills to allow high-CBD strains of marijuana, though most of those laws are very unlikely to actually provide access even to the limited group of patients they are intended to protect.

In several jurisdictions, voters themselves decided marijuana policy issues. Voters in Alaska and Oregon chose to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older and to regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol. Washington D.C.’s voters overwhelmingly approved allowing adults to grow and possess limited amounts of marijuana — though the measure will go into effect only after surviving a Congressional review. Guam’s voters approved medical marijuana. The only statewide marijuana initiative to fall short in 2014 was in Florida, where medical marijuana received 58% of the vote, but needed 60% to pass.

Legalization is another issue that a party that decided to stand for something could use to make significant gains.

Climate Change
This year marked the first major demonstration of how dramatically the quarter-century-old climate movement has changed, diversified, and grown. No longer is global warming an issue solely for environmentalists. People from more than 1,000 organizations walked in the People’s Climate March in New York, including trade unions, schools, and faith-based, social justice, student, and public health groups, among others. Thousands of activists joined marches in cities around the globe that day.

Despite the growth of the movement, climate change deniers gained seats in Congress. But polling shows that the issue is part of a broader agenda that could lead to a new majority in America.

Cuba
Normalizing relations with Cuba could lead to a dramatic shift in Florida politics. As long as right-wing Cubans continue to take extreme positions, their political influence will shrink. Young Cubans do not hold the same hard-line views as their parents. The Cuban vote is turning blue in Florida, a shift that will damage the GOP’s electoral chances in future elections.

Racial Justice
The high profile cases of unarmed African Americans being killed by an increasingly militarized police force has led to a vibrant movement for racial justice, and against the militarization of the police. The Republicans again are on the wrong side of the issue. While law and order traditionally does well at the ballot box, police violence has crossed the line. Voters will support reform candidates and could reject candidates that support the police unconditionally.

Winning Agenda
While there are many other issues that could make up a winning agenda, the ones I chose were the highlights of 2014. If we add issues like money in politics, violence against women, student loan debt, inequality, the environment, women’s issues, and labor issues, we can build a coalition that will end the GOP’s hold on Congress. It’s the coalition that allowed the Democrats to hold Congress in the past. If the Democrats turn away from their Wall Street supporters and build that coalition again, it will end the GOP’s control of Congress.

Many didn’t see the progress in 2014, but a shift has begun, a shift that could change our country, if we recognize it and act. I hear you: odds are the tone-deaf Democrats won’t see it, and will continue to hand elections to the Republicans. But we can choose to believe, and if we act and don’t wait for politicians to act for us, we can win. 

Scott Galindez was formerly the co-founder of Truthout.

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