Midterms: Chicken Soup for the Electoral Soul

The 2022 midterm elections are MOSTLY in the books – thank again Georgia, for the endless run-offs that keep on giving, every two years it seems like. You’ve heard the national narrative: Democrats did surprisingly well, given how parties in power usually take big losses during the mid-terms, and particularly when Biden has such low approval numbers.

Today we’ll talk about how healthcare did on Election Day, and how the fight over Medicare for All within the Democratic Party affected those results.

Show Notes

First the good news, some wins on single payer healthcare ballot measures:

  • Arizona: voters approve Proposition 209, or the Predatory Debt Collection Act, which cuts down on interest rates on medical debt and increases the amount of assets protected from creditors. The average Arizonan with medical debt has $1,903 in collections and while 20% of white Arizonans have medical debt in collections, that number for communities of color is much higher at 39%. In Arizona, interest rates for medical debt increase by as much as 10% each year – this legislation caps the interest rate at 3%. It also protects homes, household furnishings, vehicles and bank accounts from collections or forced sale.
    • Run by Healthcare Rising Arizona, a grassroots, labor-backed organization, this law is the first of its kind. Of course the interest groups backed by collection agencies launched a legal challenge against the ballot initiative. Sadly for them, it failed. The proposition passed by with 75% support.
    • While it doesn’t address the main issue of high medical costs, the new law will provide real relief to people struggling with medical bills.
  • Massachusetts: a non-binding ballot policy question in favor of M4A passes in 20 state house districts. Our friends at MassCare put single-payer on the ballot, instructing state representatives to support Medicare for All. The question passed in all 20 districts. Most states don’t have this tool; it doesn’t require the legislator to sponsor a bill, but it can be an effective pressure tool for legislators who aren’t supporters of M4A yet. Great work by our comrades at MassCare, especially former Healthcare-NOW Communications Director/current Executive Director Stephanie Nakajima.
    • Our own Ben Day organized around this question in his own neighborhood. He found talking to voters about this ballot measure was a great way to bring new people into the movement and hear new stories about the healthcare system. The question passed by over 77% in his district, so good job, Ben!
  • The Pros of Ballot Questions: when you put something popular like Medicare for All to a vote, you win! However, passing and implementing ballot initiatives require deep, heavy duty organizing, and a lot of follow up. This kind of direct democracy is great for involving more people and building our movement, but the higher the stakes, the more pushback you’ll get from your opponents.
  • The Cons of Ballot Questions: ballot questions can be hugely expensive to pass, especially if your opposition has deep pockets, like the healthcare industry. Colorado is a cautionary tale. In 2016, the day the state of Colorado voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by about 5 points, voters there also rejected a ballot measure to enact a state-based single-payer system by an astounding margin of 79 percent to 21 percent. Ballot initiatives are not easier than passing legislation, and probably require just as much work and resources as passing a law.

There was also good electoral news in the reproductive health column! Turns out that people with uteruses vote, and they get pissed off when you try to take away their rights. Victories on abortion in five states:

Medicare for All candidates’ results were a mixed bag. We have some really exciting new Medicare for All leaders entering Congress next year. But it wasn’t all good news, because we saw vividly how the Democratic Party establishment keeps shooting itself in the foot by, essentially, trying to undermine progressive candidates – even in the general elections – and trying to prop up losing corporate Democrats.

The good news first! New M4A champions joining Congress:

  • Texas: Greg Casar, longtime city councilor and now Congressional District 35 representing East Austin
  • Pennsylvania: Summer Lee, state’s first Black congresswoman, won against long-time health insurance industry executive.
  • Florida: Maxwell Frost, first “Gen Z” member of Congress – he’s bussin! (For The Olds, please consult this definition and delight the youngsters in your life with your knowledge of their slang.)

Now the bad news, and also troubling news. Democrats lost the House, which means a split Congress for the next two years, and in all likelihood no major healthcare legislation. Democrats had a chance of holding the House, which would have given room to advance Medicare for All. Unfortuntely the Democratic Party can’t get out of its own way, and we’ll focus on two districts that perfectly illustrate that problem.

  • New York: This one state basically cost Democrats a majority in the House. The New York Democrats suffered huge electoral losses. Take the case of Sean Patrick Maloney, the incumbent representative for New York’s 18th district. Not a M4A supporter, and actually Chair of the DCCC – the very organization that pulled its support from Jamie Mcleod-Skinner’s race. Like everywhere, New York was significantly redistricted this year. Instead of running in his own district, Maloney chose to run in a safer neighboring district, pushing M4A supporter Representative Mondaire Jones out of his district. (Jones went on to lose the primary in his new, more conservative district.) Maloney runs a really right-wing campaign and LOSES in the general election. But not before the DCCC spent $6 million on his race! That’s money that could have put McLeod-Skinner over the top in Oregon. To cap it all off, Pat Ryan, the Democrat who runs in Maloney’s old district WINS his election – becoming one of the few success stories in New York this election cycle.
    • Moral of the story: don’t ever, ever, ever give money to the DCCC or to the House Majority PAC. Give directly to the candidates who support the issues you care about.

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