If the 2019 elections are any indication, Republicans need to worry about their viability come 2020. In Virginia, Democrats have majorities in both its upper and lower houses.
With a Democratic governor, Virginia has an unprecedented opportunity to shape public policy, especially around gun control, a key concern for many. In West Virginia, the candidate backed by 45 lost. Many will say it is because of the Republican governor, Matt Bevin, was extremely unpopular. If so why was 45 propping him up? He must have thought he had a prayer.
45 notwithstanding, Bevin’s Democratic opponent, Attorney General Andy Beshear, scored a very narrow victory, getting 49.2 percent of the vote, compared to Bevin’s 48.8. Just five thousand votes separate the two men, but a narrow win is still a victory, and 45 has egg on his face. Usually, when 45 shows up and takes it over the line, the base is supposed to get fired up. Not this time.
While Democrats scored some gains, the Mississippi governor’s mansion is still in Republican hands. Mississippi has the largest concentration of Black people – 39 percent – of any state, but African Americans remain underrepresented among elected officials in Mississippi. Is it voter turnout? An inability to forge a progressive coalition? Or, are race matters so hardwired in Mississippi that Republicans will always prevail?
Speaking of other race matters, the affirmative action ballot measure that appeared on the Washington state ballot failed, which is disappointing news for those who think that we have not yet met diversity goals. Washington state was one of the first to ban affirmative action in 1998 (California’s anti-affirmative action Proposition 209 also passed that year). After California and Washington, other states followed, including Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma.
Although the affirmative action measure – Referendum 88 – lost very narrowly, it still failed. That means that state agencies can’t openly recruit diverse candidates, and contracting agencies can’t make special efforts to reach out to those who are underrepresented. And since the anti-affirmative action measure passed in 1998, the numbers of minority and women-owned businesses have dropped in the state. That’s a step backward!
One of the reasons Referendum 88 failed was because a group of Chinese immigrants was among those who campaigned to defeat the affirmative action measure. Former governor Gary Locke, an Asian American man who describes himself as a product of affirmative action, fought for the referendum. But the majority of voters rejected the measure. So much for the “people of color” coalition.
Still, it is interesting that a recent Gallup poll showed that a majority of white people in this country narrowly favor affirmative action, with 65 percent advocating affirmative action for women and 61 percent supporting affirmative action for minorities. These levels of support are the highest since Gallup began polling on this issue. Perhaps the recent focus on the wealth gap has sensitized some people to inequality. In any case, as positive as the poll was, it didn’t translate to the vote.
The affirmative action loss is bad news because it may signal other states to avoid pro-affirmative action referenda. Further, the loss confirms that many are satisfied with the lack of diversity that is commonplace in politics, the workplace, and elsewhere. And, given the composition of this Supreme Court, challenges to affirmative action that come before them are likely to weaken efforts to encourage diversity in employment, contracting, and education. Several of the justices have already openly opined that race should matter less. Their overturning of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is evidence of their race myopia. It is as if these judges are oblivious to the persistence of racism. It is as if they ignore the headlines about the police shootings of Black men. It is as if the wealth gap means nothing to them.
So, what do we learn from the last elections? Democrats have a chance to defeat some Republicans and may yet prevail in the 2020 elections. But race remains a divisive factor in our country. And unfortunately, we have a President who will use race divisiveness to his advantage. Count on the 2020 election to be as contentious as the 2016 election was, but hopefully with different results.