Election '07: Lessons Learned
The 2007 elections prove once again that all politics is local as voters in three states soundly rejected governors' pet projects and others put big-ticket spending items such as roads and cancer research on the state's credit card.
The results yielded clues to the mood of voters as the country gears up for the kickoff of the 2008 presidential race, possibly as early as next month if New Hampshire decides to hold its primary then. "Voters are in a very change-oriented mood," said Terry Madonna, a professor and director of the Keystone Poll at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.
Still, Tim Storey, a state elections expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures, cautioned against reading too much about 2008 into the Nov. 6 legislative and state contests because the issues and concerns are very state specific. From scandals in New Jersey to term limits in Louisiana, "there are a lot of unusual circumstances," Storey said.
Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R), who lost his job to Democrat Steve Beshear, wasn't the only top state executive to take it on the chin in this year's election. Voters in New Jersey, Oregon and Utah all repudiated their governor's endorsement of high-profile ballot initiatives by voting "no."
No new taxes, but more spending please
Voters showed an aversion to higher taxes -- but a willingness to borrow. Besides squashing the cigarette-tax hike in Oregon, voters in Washington made it harder for politicians to raise taxes by requiring two-thirds approval from the Legislature or direct voter approval of any increase. The measure was the brainchild of activist Tim Eyman, a conservative political activist who has introduced at least a dozen ballot measures in the state since 1998 -- most of them unsuccessful attempts to curb taxes and fees.
Texans want to spend -- and spend big. Lone Star voters agreed to invest more than $3 billion in cancer prevention and issue $6 billion in bonds for highway and construction projects. The cancer initiative was a priority for Gov. Rick Perry (R) and widely promoted by cycling legend and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong.
The 2007 election yielded other interesting takeaways. Contests in Virginia and New York showed that Republican efforts to appeal to voters by getting tough on illegal immigration weren't enough to change the course of Virginia legislative elections or New York county contests.
'Blue' tide continues
In Mississippi, where Republican Gov. Haley Barbour coasted to re-election, Democrats netted four new spots in the state Senate to retake control with a 28-24 majority. Democrats also defeated one of two state senators who switched to the GOP earlier this year, giving Republicans a short-lived majority in that chamber for the first time since 1875. State Democrats said the GOP's resistance to lowering the state's 7 percent grocery tax, the nation's highest, was a major issue in this year's election. Democrats lost one seat in the Mississippi House, but still hold 74 of that chamber's 122 seats, based on unofficial vote counts.