A Personal Reflection: After Election Day, Moving On

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November 5, 2014

No matter what the pundits and polls say, there is often a moment early on during marathon Election Night coverage when those of us glued to the TV and Twitter decide it may not be so bad after all –- that surge of protective optimism that keeps you up way too late. For me, that optimism came from reports of higher-than-usual-midterm-election turnout which, I imagined, had to mean that Democrats would prevail in places where their obituaries had already been written. But the mood was shattered early on with the results from Kentucky, where Sen. Mitch McConnell soundly defeated his challenger, a Democrat who refused to even say if she voted for President Obama in the last election.

The night went steadily downhill after that when it came to the big-ticket races for governor and US Senate. But punctuating the coverage was news of another sort. Voters made their voices heard on ballot measures, too, and overwhelmingly they were showing their “blue” colors. Minimum wage increases passed in Nebraska, Arkansas, South Dakota, and Alaska with voters in Illinois approving a non-binding measure urging their legislature to #RaiseTheWage. Draconian fetal personhood initiatives went down in North Dakota and Colorado although Tennessee amended its state constitution to make it easier for lawmakers to enact abortion restrictions. Pot proponents had big wins in Oregon and Alaska and did well in Florida on a medical marijuana constitutional amendment that fell just short of the 60% required for passage.

What Does All This Mean?

How can voters approve increases in the minimum wage and re-elect lawmakers who voted against federal bills? Why would an anti-choice Republican who sponsored fetal personhood at one time win a Senate election in a state that defeated it on the ballot for the third time (Colorado)?

Well, for one thing, the candidates who prevailed worked hard to run from their past records when it came to social issues deemed popular with the electorate in their state, and the defeated candidates worked just as hard to distance themselves from issues they thought might be controversial. Take a look at Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR),someone more likely to vote with Republicans on those “messy” issues than his own party! I am reminded of President Harry Truman’s quote: “Given the choice between a Republican and someone who acts like a Republican, people will vote for the real Republican all the time.”

In my 30-plus years in Washington, DC, I’ve seen the pendulum swing back and forth in elections. That’s not to say that it still doesn’t sting to see the party you canvassed for go down in flames. But just as the proverbial swinging pendulum is a constant, so is the work. I have learned that no matter who gets elected, it takes the same amount of hard work to advance progressive issues like economic and reproductive justice. So take some time to lick your wounds (if you are smarting) and brace yourself for organizing and advocating ahead – we have our work cut out for us!

Sammie Moshenberg is a consultant in DC, specializing in strategic grassroots capacity building and engagement. She recently stepped down from her post at the National Council of Jewish Women, where she headed the Washington office for 30 years.

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