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LGBT Candidates & Medicaid Expansion Shine Through on Election Night

What a Difference a Year Makes. 364 days after the sobering results of the 2016 elections, health care and HIV advocates finally had some election returns worth cheering about on Tuesday night, as a slew of progressive candidates tore through their conservative opponents in 2017’s off-year elections. On the eve of the one year anniversary of what can arguably be described as the low point of modern American liberalism with the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, an energized electorate did its part to send a stern message to Republicans across the nation: the bigoted and harmful policies of the current administration and Congressional leadership have not gone unnoticed and “the resistance” to a politics that denigrates and marginalizes women, people of color, the poor and the sick is not going away any time soon.  Here are some of the highlights of Tuesday night’s results:

Landslide Victories in Virginia and New Jersey: In what was undoubtedly 2017’s most high-profile race, Democrat Ralph Northam made quick work of the Trump-backed Republican Ed Gillespie on Tuesday evening, winning the governor’s race in Virginia by a decisive 9 point margin. The election, which was being watched closely by both national parties and was seen by many as a referendum on President Trump’s first 10 months in office, has bolstered the confidence of Democrats going into the 2018 midterms, showing that the party is indeed capable of turning the newfound energy of grassroots progressive movements in the age of Trump into electoral victories. 

The path forward for Republicans in the wake of Gillespie’s loss is considerably less clear. While President Trump blamed the loss on Gillespie’s unwillingness to fully embrace him & his policies, the exit polls told a different story. In a less surprising, though no less important race, Democrat Phil Murphy defeated Republican Lt. Gov Kim Guadagno to regain control of the governor’s mansion in the Garden State for the Democrats after Gov. Chris Christie’s 8 years in office.

A Historic Night for LGBT Candidates:
Perhaps the biggest and most welcome surprise of the night was the election of Danica Roem, the first openly transgender person to ever be elected to a U.S. statehouse (transgender woman Althea Garrison was elected to the Massachusetts state legislature in 1992, but she was not openly transgender during her campaign). Roem, a 33-year old Democrat who has never held public office, defeated 13-term Republican incumbent Robert G. Marshall, a man who tried to pass a transgender bathroom bill earlier this year and who has called himself Virginia’s “chief homophobe”.

In addition to Roem’s historic win, not 1, but 2 black transgender candidates were successful in their bids for Minneapolis’ City Council, with Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham winning their races this week. Meanwhile, in the pacific northwest, the City of Seattle elected Jenny Durkan as their new mayor, making her the first lesbian mayor in Seattle’s history and the first woman to hold the post since the 1920s.

Medicaid Expansion Wins Big in Maine as Ohio Drug Pricing Initiative Flounders: For health care advocates, the most encouraging result of the 2017 elections came in Maine, where citizens voted overwhelmingly for a ballot initiative that would expand Medicaid services to 70,000 residents on Tuesday night. The vote, which would make Maine the 32nd state (along with D.C.) to expand Medicaid since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), was huge for a number reasons, none more so than the fact that it serves as perhaps the clearest electoral rebuke of the Republican party’s ACA sabotage efforts to date. Republican Governor Paul LePage, who has vetoed 5 separate attempts to pass Medicaid expansion through the state legislature, has already raised objections to the initiative’s passage. Governor LePage, whose term limit comes up next year, has said that he will not implement medicaid expansion in Maine unless the state legislature allocates the money to fund it. Given the success of Maine’s Medicaid vote, similar ballot initiative are currently being planned for a number of other states in 2018, including Idaho, Nebraska and Utah.

At the same time, a controversial drug pricing ballot initiative in Ohio was soundly defeated by voters after a prolonged and expansive ad campaign between those for and against it. The initiative, known alternately as The Ohio Drug Price Relief Act and Ohio Issue 2, was opposed by nearly 4 out of 5 Ohio voters as uncertainty over both the initiative’s purpose and effectiveness lead Ohioans to vote against it. Issue 2, which was funded almost entirely by California-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation and strongly opposed by the pharmaceutical industry, was the most expensive ballot issue in Ohio history and one of the most confusing. For a rundown of why the initiative failed so spectacularly, click here.

Posted By: AIDS United, Policy Department - Thursday, November 09, 2017

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