I voted in the recently concluded midterm elections early in my home state before I boarded the flight to Los Angeles. It's a family trip, but there was an added incentive for me too. The two-week stay in Long Beach City provided me with an opportunity to observe the run-up to the midterm elections in the hotbed of resistance to President Trump: California. It also afforded me a chance to understand why Californians consider themselves so unique. It didn't hurt that three well-known women who made waves in the national scene recently are from California, and they are Nancy Pelosi (the incoming Speaker of the House), Diane Feinstein (who showed much poise during the Kavanaugh hearing), and Professor Christine Blasey Ford (who accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her many years ago).
On election night, November 6, I stayed up way past my bedtime to learn if the “blue wave” will materialise. The “blue wave” is the name given by President Trump to the massive Democratic Party pushback of the Trump agenda. On November 7, in a press briefing after the results were announced, the president took credit for the election outcome, and bragged that he had “stopped the blue wave,” referring to the expectation of big Democratic wins. Well, even if the blue wave fell short, the House of Representatives will now have a Democratic majority, and can be expected to slow down the Trump juggernaut that began to upend Obamacare, social programmes, financial reforms, soft immigration policy, and everything else that the liberals have built up over the years.
A little bit of nostalgia here. Election seasons, since I was very young, have been exciting times for my family for four generations. My earliest recollections are from the January 2, 1965 presidential elections in Pakistan when there was the Combined Opposition Parties (COP) including Awami-League-fielded Fatima Jinnah as a candidate to run against dictator Ayub Khan of the Convention Muslim League. As a student of Class VIII in Dhaka, I took a lot of interest in that election. I can recall that on election night, which I spent in Sylhet's Dargah Mahallah with some diehard supporters of COP, I was awake past midnight hoping that the "lantern", the symbol for COP, will emerge victorious. But then we heard on the radio that Ayub Khan held on to power by securing the majority vote in the Electoral College consisting of Basic Democrats! Since then, Election Day has been a special day for me and my family.
These midterm elections were watched very nervously not only by American citizens, but also around the globe. Following the election of Donald Trump in 2016, there was been non-stop speculation as to whether the midterms would reverse the trend that he triggered—a nationalistic, “America First” mindset, that has taken on trade policy, multilateral treaties, and interventionism. This election, at the federal level, was for 35 Senators and 435 members of the House of Representatives. However, to help the Republicans retain the majority in the House, Trump embraced the midterms as a referendum on himself. “I'm on the ballot,” he said in an election rally in Mississippi, hoping to ward off complacency among the Republicans. The Democrats fought back hard, and played their cards well. Barack Obama stumped for the Democrats furiously and reminded them, “The character of this country is on the ballot.”
Coming back to this week's vote, I relished the prospect of spending the last few days before the US midterm elections in California. I am not a voter in California and, as mentioned, had already cast my vote in Massachusetts, where I live, on October 22, before I left for the West Coast, taking advantage of early voting practice. On Election Day, November 6, I spent the better part of my day going through a 96-page document, entitled “Official Voter Information Guide (OVIG)” published by the Secretary of State of California. Each state has an elected official, the Secretary of State, who maintains, among other things, the voter list and performs the role of state election commissioner.
After going through the OVIG, the California voting manifesto, I felt overwhelmed. While the document provides detailed information on each candidate, it also has details of the 11 items on the “ballot”. A ballot measure is a piece of proposed legislation to be approved or rejected by eligible voters. Also known as “propositions” or simply “questions”, the ballot initiative process, or referendum, gives Californian citizens a way to propose laws and constitutional amendments without the support of the governor or the legislature. As a result, California has evolved into one of the most liberal, environmentally conscious, and politically active corners of the country. Its political system is a manifestation of people's power. With enough support, i.e. voter signatures, almost anything can be placed on the California ballot.
On the downside, while it might be easy to get on the ballot, you need money to have a shot at getting any initiative passed. For example, as soon as voters pass a piece of legislation curbing big business, the big industries band together, raise a lot of money, and manage to upturn the earlier regulatory measure at the next ballot. However, the ballot process is also credited with enabling the citizens to pass many environment-friendly laws and has created a fertile climate for funding avant-garde research studies on science and technology. This year, of the 11 questions on the ballot, only six were approved by the electorate. Which ones? I will write about them in future if my readers express enough interest!
Dr Abdullah Shibli is an economist, and Senior Research Fellow, International Sustainable Development Institute (ISDI), a think-tank in Boston, USA. His new book Economic Crosscurrents will be published later this year.