By State Representative, Leon D. Young
Much is being said, written and speculated about the political ramifications of Barack Obama’s recent reelection. From the very outset, President Obama’s astute campaign team was adamant, in its insistence, that this would be a very close election. This sobering prognostication was due, in large measure, to the stagnant economy and considerable dissatisfaction among white voters.
But, a funny thing happened on election night. Not only did President Obama win a stunning plurality in the Electoral College (332 to 206), Democrats actually broadened their majority in the upper house. These two dramatic turn of events left many political pundits scratching their heads in total disbelief.
Election night ushered in some other political surprises as well. Last Tuesday’s election was a watershed moment for the gay marriage movement. Voters in three states voted to legalize it – something no state had done before – and a fourth state voted against a proposed ban. [ Maine , Maryland and Washington state all passed new gay marriage laws on Tuesday, while voters in Minnesota defeated a ban.]
If this movement to ratify gay marriage catches on in other states, African Americans and Latinos will be a big reason why. The exit polls suggest both groups have now moved in large numbers toward supporting gay marriage. Their shifts may not be bigger than other demographics, but the fact that they are shifting at all (after sticking to their opposition) is what’s really significant here.
Tuesday’s progressive electorate also weighed in on the issue of marijuana usage. Colorado and Washington became the first U.S. states to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana for recreational use – in defiance of federal law.
Under the recreational marijuana measure in Colorado and Washington, personal possession of up to an ounce (28.5 grams) of marijuana would be legal for anyone at least 21 years of age. They also will permit cannabis to be legally sold and taxed at state-licensed stores in a system modeled after a regime many states have in place for alcohol sales.
Wisconsin made historic political news in its own right. Rep. Tammy Baldwin is now set to become Wisconsin ’s first female U.S. senator and the nation’s first openly gay senator. What makes Tammy’s hard-fought victory, in a bruising, $65 million race against a popular Republican ex-governor, Tommy Thompson, even more remarkable is Wisconsin ’s schizophrenic political history of late. Back in 2006, a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman passed with the support of a clear majority of Wisconsinites – the same electorate that on Tuesday voted for Representative Tammy Baldwin, making her the country’s first openly gay senator.
As Mitt Romney and his Republican cohorts discovered to their chagrin last week, the American electorate is indeed changing. It’s younger, more multicultural in appearance (Black, Latino and Asian), and definitely less white. It now remains to be seen whether the GOP has the willingness, much less the insight, to alter its message — in an effort to become more inclusive of others.