As 2012 draws to a close and we gear up for the important political battles that lie ahead in 2013, it is important that we take a few moments to celebrate the progressive victories that we achieved over the past 12 months. Here are some of them:
* Criminal Justice Reform – Earlier this year, Connecticut became the fifth state in five years to abolish the death penalty. Voters in California voted to reform that state’s draconian three-strikes law by passing Proposition 36, which provided that life in prison is no longer required for three-time offenders if the third crime is non-violent. And voters in Colorado and Washington State took a stand against our nation’s senseless drug laws by voting to legalize personal possession and use of marijuana.
* Financial Reform – 2012 opened and closed with exciting developments regarding the reform of our nation’s financial sector. In early January 2012, President Obama got the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fully running by making a recess appointment of Richard Cordray as director of that new government entity charged with enforcing our nation’s consumer laws that should be curbing shady business practices of banks, payday lenders, credit card companies, credit counseling entities, and subprime mortgage lenders. At the end of the year, Elizabeth Warren, the driving force behind the creation of the CFPB, was elected to the U.S. Senate and has been selected by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to be on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, which oversees banks and other financial institutions.
* Environmental Protection – the Obama Administration finalized two important new standards that will help protect public health and improve air quality. First, the Administration finalized a rule to nearly double vehicle fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 mpg by 2025, which is expected to save Americans $1.7 trillion at the gas pump and avoid 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Second, the Administration tightened air quality standards for fine particulate matter, which is microscopic pollution that causes serious health problems by lodging deep in people’s lungs. In other good environmental news, a federal appellate court in June upheld the US EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the federal Clean Air Act.
* LGBT Equality – 2012 was, of course, a banner year for advancing LGBT equality. For the first time in US history, equality was supported by a majority of voters facing ballot proposals approving marriage equality in Maine, Washington, and Maryland, and refusing to ban equality in Minnesota. The first openly lesbian U.S. Senator, Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) was elected in November as were a record seven openly-gay House members. President Obama publicly supported marriage equality, and anti-equality forces in Iowa failed in their effort to recall a state Supreme Court justice who declared that state’s ban on marriage equality unconstitutional. In February, a federal appellate court ruled California’s anti-marriage equality Proposition 8 unconstitutional, and two federal courts in 2012 did the same with the Defense of Marriage Act.
* Health Care Reform – In a decision that surprised many commentators, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka “ObamaCare.” And while the GOP-controlled House has voted at least 33 times to repeal ObamaCare, President Obama’s re-election in November virtually guarantees that will never occur. In implementing ObamaCare, the Obama Administration, standing up to strong opposition from conservative religious organizations, finalized rules requiring that contraception be included as a preventive health service that insurance policies must cover with no co-pay. This will help millions of women afford access to birth control and also save money by reducing unintended pregnancies.
* Weakening ALEC – In early 2012, progressives, led by Color of Change and the Center for Media and Democracy, brought significant pressure on corporate entities to end their support of the shadowy right-wing organization American Legislative Exchange Council (“ALEC”), which has been at the forefront of drafting and pushing for “model” conservative legislation regarding voter suppression, worker’s rights, deregulation, privatizing education, promoting guns, etc. As a result of this pressure, 42 corporations and four non-profit organizations have withdrawn their support to date, and ALEC is no longer operating in the shadows that it once did.
* Overcoming Voter Suppression – After years of promoting the false claim of rampant in-person voting fraud, conservatives sought to crack down on voting by people of color, students, poor people, and other Democratic-leaning groups by enacting voter ID requirements, strict limits on voter registration efforts, and cutbacks of early voting. These efforts largely failed thanks to successful litigation in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other states; and because the attack on voting rights backfired by making the groups who were targeted by voter suppression laws more motivated to vote. In fact, African American voter turnout in 2012 was likely higher than white voter turnout for the first time in history. And voters in Minnesota rejected a voter suppression ballot proposal this past November that initially had 80% support when it was first introduced.
* Gathering Steam Against Big Money in Politics - Efforts by Move to Amend and other groups to reduce the influence of big money in our political system gathered steam in 2012. In Colorado and Montana, voters overwhelmingly supported ballot initiatives urging a Constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United and other Supreme Court decisions establishing a right to spend unlimited amounts on campaign contributions. Colorado Proposition 65 passed with 73.8% of the vote, while Montana Initiative I-166 received 74.8% support. Voters in 120 cities throughout the country passed similar initiatives.
* President Obama Re-Elected With A More Diverse and Progressive Congress – The November elections saw the re-election of President Obama and the election of four new progressive U.S. Senators – Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). In addition, Joe Lieberman (I-CT) is finally leaving the Senate! On the House side, the Democrats elected in November will be the first major party caucus in US history that is majority female and people of color. New House progressives will include Alan Grayson (FL-09), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Dan Kildee (MI-05), Ann McLane Kuster (NH-02), Grace Meng (NY-06), Patrick Murphy (FL-18), Rick Nolan (MN-08), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Raul Ruiz (CA-36), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), Mark Tacano (CA-41), Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08), and Kyrsten Simena (AZ-09). On the flip side, tea party conservatives Allen West (FL), Chip Cravaack (MN), Bobby Schilling (IL), Roscoe Bartlett (MD), Ann-Marie Buerkle (NY), Francisco Canseco (TX), and Joe Walsh (IL) were all defeat and, hopefully, will never be heard from politically again.
Of course, much work remains to be done, and we will face a series of important battles in 2013 to further the cause of progress. But, before we gear up for those battles, let’s be sure to celebrate all we have achieved over the past twelve months.
Tags: ALEC, Citizens United, criminal justice, death penalty, Elizabeth Warren, financial reform, health care reform, LGBT equality, Move to Amend, ObamaCare, President Obama, progressive victories, tea party, top progressive victories of 2012, voter suppression, year in review