CongressLegislation for Democrats

Terry H. Schwadron

Nov.10, 2018

If the Democrats taking over the House are paying attention, they should pick up on some of the ballot initiatives that passed in almost half the states in Tuesday’s elections.

President Trump is almost daring Democrats to make investigations first priority of the incoming majority and its new bevy of committee chairs. Besides the long list of administration misdeeds in policy and ethics, the firing of Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions in a way that leaves constitutional questions aplenty just seems an obvious place for investigation to start.

Still, to show that they are not just a different party, but a governing party, Democrats should be launching a fistful of achievable, positive legislative contributions that would make life a bit easier, would help provide a neutral platform of issues to discuss bipartisanship, and would help brand the Democrats as problem solvers rather than only as anti-Trump resisters.

Of course, as President Trump made clear in a meandering press conference yesterday, he is willing to work with Democrats at a price — he wants them to lay off normal Congressional oversight responsibilities by not asking too many questions of his administration.

Having run in virtually every district on efforts to pursue affordable health care, the Democrats would be wise to create an early effort to draft a series of measures that would protect a requirement for coverage of pre-existing health conditions, for example, and that would shore up the remaining parts of Obamacare that have come under attack in the last two years.

Even Republicans who have opposed aspects of wider health care would acknowledge that this area has emerged as a top tier issue, and engage in a healthy debate about how to structure responses. President Trump, who disdains dealing with details, has waved his magic blessings over covering pre-existing conditions without doing anything to make it so. Let’s have Democrats lead on this issue, including regulating the price of prescription drugs and caps on opioids.

On Tuesday, four conservative states took up health care with Idaho, Utah, Nebraska and voting to pass expansion of Medicare, bringing tens of thousands of additional adults under Medicaid coverage, and Montana aiming tobacco taxes towards health. Expanding Medicaid by states seems an achievable goal for both parties.

Other ballot initiatives divisive issues in American life promoted voting rights, minimum wage, criminal justice reform, environmental regulations and marijuana, among others. Common sense would suggest that these form the basis of a Democratic-led agenda, along with infrastructure improvements.

The decision in increasingly red Florida to approve overwhelmingly an initiative restoring voting rights to 1.5 million people who have been convicted of felonies but have completed their sentences should be a wake-up call. This particular measure, which excludes those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, was one of several backed by a bipartisan criminal justice reform movement that has not gotten traction in Washington. Surely there are other aspects of criminal justice that can move ahead.

since the election of President Trump, but remains energetic in states and cities.

In Ohio, for example, voters rejected a measure aimed at reducing the prison population by decreasing penalties for low-level drug crimes. Nevertheless, this is the sort of idea that can bring the ACLU and Jared Kushner together. Coloradans outlawed involuntary servitude as a punishment. In Louisiana, voters said juries in felony trials must be unanimous in their verdicts, overturning a Jim Crow-era law that allowed 10 of 12 jurors to decide cases. And Washington State passed a ballot measure requiring mental health and de-escalation training for police officers, in an effort to reduce officer-involved shootings. Voters in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Oklahoma approved initiatives expanding the rights of crime victims.

Voters in Arkansas and Missouri, raised the minimum wage. Missouri’s wage rose to $11 an hour from $8.50, and Arkansas’s increased to $12 from $7.85. Isn’t it time for Congress, whose members from both parties say they want to help middle class workers, to raise the federal minimum wage?

Democrats should also tackle achievable restorations of clean air and water efforts blown away in the de-regulation zeal of this White House. A few ballot measures were rejected by the states to impose carbon taxes or to require renewable energy sources, but surely there are areas for potential agreement here.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts became the first state to consider a ballot measure targeting transgender rights, though voters ended up rejecting an initiative that would have prevented discrimination in public spaces, including bathrooms and locker rooms, based on gender identity.

Michigan became the first Midwestern state to legalize recreational marijuana, while North Dakota voters said no. But nine states and the District of Columbia already allow adults to buy and possess marijuana in small amounts for recreational use. Missouri and Utah voted to allow for medically approved marijuana. Again, for the moment, Democrats would be in the right to push for resolution of issues between federal and state laws.

Ballots in Maryland, North Carolina and Arkansas considered state constitutional amendments or other rule changes to expand voting rights. Michigan and Nevada approved plans that would automatically register voters when they renew or apply for a driver’s license — unless they opt out — as well as allow later registration and expand absentee voting. Surely the huge turnout on Tuesday should underscore the importance of these issues for Congress.

As The New York Times editorialized, “With the House of Representatives in Democrats’ control, the next two years will give them the opportunity to show that there’s a better model of legislating, that Congress is capable of doing more for Americans than cutting taxes for the wealthy and menacing everyone else’s health care.”

There will plenty of opportunity to start new and wide probes of the Trump administration for its numerous breaches of ethics, financial matters and operational misdeeds. But it would be a good idea for Democrats to see what it can get done as well.


Journalist, musician, community volunteer

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