Part 2 of my 2018 Election Roundup is devoted to the three questions on the Massachusetts ballot. Part 1 was devoted to the candidates. For a detailed description and complete text of each one, along with an argument for and an argument against, see the “Information for Voters” bulletin that all commonwealth voters should have received earlier this fall. You can also find it online on the secretary of state’s website, along with almost everything you need to know about voting in Massachusetts.
Ballot questions are said to be one of our purest forms of “direct democracy,” and I guess in a way they are: they enable citizens to express our views on issues without going through our elected representatives. However, if you’re anything like me, you’ve found that complex issues can’t be reduced to yes/no, and there’s no place on the ballot for “Yes, but . . .” or “No, but . . .”
So I take my cue from singer-songwriter-activist Holly Near, who in her concerts often says of political candidates that she doesn’t expect to agree with any of them 100 percent so she votes for the one she thinks she can “struggle with.” As she put it in a November 2012 interview she said, “In a democracy, one has to struggle with elected officials to keep them on track.”
For ballot questions the equivalent might go something like this: “I don’t expect any ballot question to solve the problem it’s addressing, so I pick the option that’s most likely to move us closer to a solution.”
Short version: 1, 2, 3, YES, YES, YES.
Initially I had big reservations about Question 1, “Patient-to-Nurse Limits.” Of course I agreed with the idea: that health care in hospitals suffered when nurses were expected to take care of too many patients, and that limiting the number of patients per nurse was a good idea. But was this the best way to go about it? The full text of the proposed law is long and very detailed, and according to the Information for Voters booklet, “the state Health Policy Commission would be required to promulgate regulations to implement the proposed law.”
Well, after listening to several active and retired nurses and doing a little poking around on my own, I came to understand that —
- the ballot question is a last resort: previous attempts to address the issue have not been effective.
- in essence this is a labor-management issue, and unless there are compelling reasons to do otherwise I will nearly always side with labor — in this case, the nurses.
- the hospital executives and corporations pouring mega-money into urging us to vote NO and claiming they can’t afford to implement the proposed law are not hurting for cash themselves.
- quite a few hospitals are already in compliance with the terms of the proposed law, but
- a YES vote will keep the issue of patient safety alive, while a NO vote will most likely kill it.
So I’m voting YES, and I urge you to do likewise. I also urge you to vote Jay Gonzalez for governor because he has the background in health-care management and the ability to build consensus to ensure that this measure is sensibly implemented.
I have no reservations whatsoever about recommending a YES vote on Question 2, which would establish a Commission on Limited Election Spending and Corporate Rights. This is part of a coast-to-coast effort to undermine the disastrous Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which ruled that campaign spending is protected speech and therefore corporations and unions can’t be blocked from spending money to support or oppose political candidates. This is an important step toward curbing the role of money in electoral politics, and it has plenty of bipartisan support. Check out American Promise for more information about the nationwide effort to enact a 28th Amendment to the Constitution, curbing the role of Big Money in politics.
Note also that the “against” argument in the Information for Voters booklet was contributed by the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “Mass. Fiscal” is a GOP front that specializes in funneling “dark money” into trashing Democratic candidates and officeholders. To learn more about what they’re up to, check out this CommonWealth story from February 2018 or the MassFiscalExposed website.
Question 3 affirms a law passed by the State Senate and House of Representatives on Transgender Anti-Discrimination, or “discrimination on the basis of gender identity in places of public accommodation.”
Here’s one where I could vote “Yes, but . . .” but I can’t, so I’m voting YES and urging you to do likewise. This law is already on the books, and the effort to repeal it comes from the right, whose track record on anything to do with sex, sexuality, and sexual orientation sucks.
As a feminist, I wish that my liberal and progressive comrades were a little clearer on the difference between “sex” and “gender” and would spend some time discussing what goes into “gender-related identity.” That’s not going to happen in the run-up to this election, and it’s probably not going to happen in my lifetime. Sex, not gender, is assigned at birth, sometimes on the basis of ambiguous physiological evidence. Gender-related expectations follow the assignment of sex, but gender is socially constructed and flexible. Feminism has done plenty in my lifetime to expand and undermine gender expectations.
As a feminist, I also know that although politics does make strange bedfellows, in the 1980s anti-pornography feminists made a big tactical mistake by getting into bed with the anti-pornography right. Likewise it would be a big mistake here to support the right’s attempts to roll back protections for “transgender” people, even when the law is rather vague about what “gender identity” is: according to the law it’s “a person’s sincerely held gender-related identity, appearance, or behavior, whether or not it is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth.”
It’s also a big mistake to let the right frame this as the “bathroom bill,” which the “no” statement in the election booklet explicitly does. At the same time I’d be happier if the law talked about sex, not gender identity, when it comes to accommodations and services that customarily distinguish by sex.