Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Democrats win in Virginia, claim victory in Kentucky … Election firsts for minority candidates … California seizes $1.5 billion worth of marijuana.
Voters on Tuesday made major decisions about state and local government policies, weighing in on ballot initiatives across the country. In Jersey City, New Jersey, voters overwhelmingly approved new restrictions on short-term rentals, a measure that Airbnb spent $4.2 million advocating against, making it the most expensive local referendum in the state’s history. The new measures will limit rentals to 60 days per year if the owner does not live on site and prohibits short-term rentals in buildings with more than four apartments unless the owner lives there. Colorado voters rejected a proposition that would've allowed the state government to keep money it collects in excess of a revenue cap written into the state constitution as part of the so-called Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, or TABOR. Democrats argued turning over TABOR was crucial to making investments in education and infrastructure. But it was opposed by fiscal conservatives, who called it a tax increase. Voters in Pittsburgh approved a property tax hike to fund construction at the city’s parks. The city council will now have to pass legislation creating a parks trust fund, where the tax money will go. In Texas, voters approved a ballot initiative that prohibits the state from imposing an income tax unless it happens through a constitutional change. The state also approved a proposition that will set aside $800 million for flood mitigation efforts. San Francisco voters passed an initiative intended to shed light on campaign donations. The new measure will require campaign ads to display the names and contribution totals of the top three donors who have contributed $5,000 or more. If the ad is funded by a political action committee, the ads must also show the name and dollar amount donated by the top two contributors to the committee. Voters in Albuquerque shot down a ballot initiative that would have built up the city’s public election financing system, allowing voters to choose a candidate to receive a $25 voucher. The proposal attracted the support of Democratic presidential candidates Julian Castro, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. Voters in Tucson, Arizona, rejected a proposal that would have made the city the only sanctuary city in the state. City officials had worried that the initiative would have put the city’s finances at risk, as some state and federal funding could be restricted for cities that declare themselves sanctuaries. [New York Times; Denver Post; WESA; Texas Tribune; New Mexico Political Reporter; Los Angeles Times; San Francisco Chronicle]
SOUTHERN ELECTIONS | State and local elections on Tuesday saw the resurrection of Democrats in two southern states, as state legislature candidates in Virginia captured both the House and Senate and the Kentucky governor’s candidate declared victory. In Kentucky, Democrat Andy Beshear had a 5,000 vote lead over Republican incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin, one of the most unpopular governors in the country. While Beshear declared the race “over” and said he would begin making transition announcements on Wednesday, Bevin on election night said he would not concede and cited unspecified voting irregularities. Then on Wednesday Bevin said he would ask for a "recanvass" of the vote, a procedure in Kentucky that rarely changes the outcome. The Republican Senate President, Robert Stivers, said there may be a procedure for the Legislature to decide the race, while Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergran Grimes said the vote margin made her "comfortable" declaring Beshear the governor-elect. President Trump won by 30% in the state in 2016, and campaigned in Kentucky a day before the election. “If you lose, they’re going to say Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world. You can’t let that happen to me!” Trump said at a rally for Bevin. Republicans won every other statewide race in Kentucky besides the governorship. Beshear said his win was a rebuke of Bevin’s style, which is known to be inflammatory. “Tonight, voters in Kentucky sent a message loud and clear for everyone to hear. It’s a message that says our elections don’t have to be about right versus left, they are still about right versus wrong,” he said. In Virginia, Democrats surged, taking control of the state House and Senate for the first time in decades. With control of the state legislature, Democrats will also have the power to set legislative maps for the next decade after the 2020 Census. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe said that he expects significant changes in the state. “The era of Republican obstruction in the Commonwealth of Virginia is now over. While tonight we celebrate the history we have made, tomorrow we must begin rewarding voters with action,” he said. Republicans held onto the governorship in Mississippi in a race won by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves over Attorney General Jim Hood. [New York Times; Vox; New York Times]
ELECTION FIRSTS | There were several minority candidates who made history in the elections on Tuesday. Republican Daniel Cameron won the Kentucky attorney general’s race, becoming the first black person to hold the office. Democrat Ghazala Hashmi became the first Muslim woman elected to the Virginia Senate. Democrat Regina Romero became the first woman and the first Latina to serve as mayor of Tucson, Arizona. Refugees and immigrants also saw gains in the elections. In Lewiston, Maine, 23-year-old Democrat Safiya Khalid became the first Somali immigrant to serve on city council, and in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, 23-year-old Democrat Nadia Mohamad became the first Muslim woman and the first Somali elected to city council. Democrat Chol Majok became the first refugee elected to public office in Syracuse, New York, and will sit on the city council. “We refugees have lived in foreign lands almost all our lives. We really never had a stable place we could call home. It’s so important to all of them, to see one of our own people accomplish this. This is more than just me. The symbolism is very important,” he said. [Washington Post; Syracuse.com]
MARIJUANA SEIZURES | The state of California seized $1.5 billion in illegally grown marijuana during raids this year. Law enforcement also arrested 150 people and seized 168 weapons. The amount of marijuana seized is roughly half the state’s legal market, and came from 950,000 plants from nearly 350 growing sites. State officials said that illegal growers put local ecosystems at risk by using toxic fertilizers and pesticides. William D. Bodner, special agent in charge of the DEA's Los Angeles office, said that that impact falls on everyone. "These illegal marijuana growers destroy wildlife and wreak havoc on our land and water, ultimately impacting the communities where we live," he said. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra promised to prosecute those arrested. "Illegal cannabis growers are devastating our communities. Criminals who disregard life, poison our waters, damage our public lands, and weaponize the illegal cannabis black market will be brought to justice,” he said. [Sacramento Bee; Newsweek]
HOME REPAIR | A new program in New York City will help residents make home repairs with low-interest, no-interest, and forgivable loans. The program, called Home Fix, has over $12 million to distribute to homeowners. NYC Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Louis Carroll said that the money will go to the neediest families who apply, and they can receive $60,000 to $150,000 to make needed repairs. “Our loans are 0-5 percent interest. We are giving grants and forgiving loans. The needier you are, the better the terms,” said Carroll. Christie Peale, the executive director of the Center for NYC Neighborhoods, the agency administering the program, said that the program is cost effective because it is easier to keep families in their homes rather than building more affordable housing should they have to move. “It’s cost effective for the city, they can build up their equity, but also they have affordable rentals,” she said. [PIX 11]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.