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Policy Points: After 2014 Elections, More Uncertainty Ahead


By Zach Bernstein

With Election Day 2014 well behind us, it’s time to look at just how much things have changed in the political world. One thing that’s not up for debate: A lot has changed. One thing that is debatable: What’s going to happen as a result.

For proponents of a sustainable economy, this election offered some very encouraging signs. Voters continued to show their support for raising the minimum wage and offering paid time off to workers, including in states represented by people who oppose taking those steps. The electorate, on these issues, is more forward-thinking than many of its representatives.

This shouldn’t be surprising.  Despite being controversial in Congress or other legislative bodies, policies like these are incredibly popular with voters (and, as recent polling has shown, small business owners). Policymakers on both sides of the aisle would be wise to take those lessons into account going forward.

Before the election, we wrote about certain races to keep an eye on. In a lot of cases, those races featured two candidates with very different positions on top issues facing our economy, like environmental protections and renewable energy growth, health care, agriculture, and more. And not all of those races came at the federal level -- some were ballot initiatives at the state level.

Now that the election is over, what are we to make of the new political landscape? Let’s recap some election results at three different levels, and see what they tell us about the political debate going forward.


Thirty-six Senate seats, as well as every House seat, were up for grabs this year. Republicans had hoped to flip at least six Senate seats currently held by Democrats to give their party the majority. As of mid-November, they had gained eight, with the potential for at least one more in Louisiana. Meanwhile, the Democrats’ two best chances to flip seats their way – in Kentucky and Georgia - ultimately fizzled.

In the House, meanwhile, the GOP’s majority has grown. The bottom line, then, is that both houses of Congress will be controlled by the GOP for the next two years, setting up the chance for more confrontation – or compromise – with President Obama.


Meanwhile, 36 states voted on who was going to lead their state government. With Congress expected to remain gridlocked, states could play a vital role in setting the agenda going forward. Again, the GOP had a better-than-expected night when it came to choosing governors.

Perhaps most notable here was how many Republicans won in Democratic-leaning states. Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland all elected Republican chief executives. Several GOP governors previously viewed as vulnerable – including Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Rick Scott in Florida, Paul LePage in Maine – also pulled out victories. (Democrats did flip one governor’s mansion, ousting Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania.)

If Congress remains gridlocked, states will play a major role in moving sustainable policies forward - or blocking them.

Ballot Initiatives

Another area where states can leapfrog Congress is with ballot initiatives. Four states featured minimum wage hikes on the ballot; a fifth, Illinois, had a nonbinding referendum. Massachusetts also had a paid sick leave initiative for voters to consider, while Oregon and Colorado voters got to vote on GMO labeling laws.

All minimum wage initiatives passed, three of them with at least 60 percent support (Nebraska’s also passed with 59 percent). On a local level, San Francisco voted to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour. Massachusetts’ paid leave initiative, meanwhile, passed with 60 percent support, making Massachusetts the third state to guarantee paid time off for workers.

The GMO labeling bills had a tougher time, with both going down to defeat, although Oregon’s failed only narrowly. Opponents of the measures spent $20 million to defeat them, close to three times the amount raised by supporters - a tactic used in earlier GMO initiatives in California and Washington state.

Initiatives on another top issue, fracking, had mixed results. Voters in one California county, San Benito, successfully banned the practice, although a similar measure in Santa Barbara County failed. One result was particularly encouraging, though: Voters in the Texas community of Denton, which has several hundred fracked wells already, also voted to ban it.

What Now?

Nobody’s entirely sure what will happen next on the federal level. Will Republicans decide to work with President Obama to pass compromise legislation, or continue taking an aggressive stance against policies like the Affordable Care Act and climate change rules? We’ll have to wait and see.

We also don’t know how heavily President Obama will continue to favor executive actions on issues like immigration. What we do know is that executive action cannot have the same impact as legislation from Congress. Whether that kind of compromise will be possible is something we won’t know for a few months, if then.

A lot has been made of how this election is a signal that Americans want both parties to work together to solve the problems facing this country. The political landscape has changed a great deal – not just in terms of who will be representing Americans in Congress and in statehouses, but also in terms of what we can expect from those representatives in the next two years. One thing’s for certain: We can expect more uncertainty ahead.

Zach Bernstein is Research Associate for the American Sustainable Business Council. Policy Points is produced by the American Sustainable Business Council. The editor is Richard Eidlin, Vice President – Public Policy and Business Engagement.

[Image credit: Vox Efx, Flickr]

American Sustainable Business Council headshotAmerican Sustainable Business Council

The <a href="http://asbcouncil.org">American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC)</a> is a network of companies and business associations. Its column, Policy Points, identifies public policies where a business voice, grounded in principles of innovation, fairness and environmental stewardship, can make an essential difference in the advocacy process. The goal is to arm readers with information and specific actions to take. As business leaders, we can and must support policy change to help make the economy more green and sustainable. The column editor is Richard Eidlin, ASBC's Vice President - Public Policy and Business Engagement.

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