Red-State Voters Expanded Medicaid, Legalized Marijuana, and Increased the Minimum Wage on Tuesday Night

PROVO, UT - November 6: 'I Voted' stickers sit on a table at a polling center as people line up to vote in the midterm elections on November 6, 2018 in Provo, Utah. Utah early voting has been the highest ever in Utah's midterm elections. One of the main proportions on the ballot in Utah is whether Utah will legalize medical marijuana.  (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
For bud. George Frey/Getty Images

On Tuesday night, voters in the state of Utah elected Mitt Romney, America’s face of traditional Mormon conservatism, to the U.S. Senate. While at it, they also backed a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana that had been opposed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and they chose to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which has been a core policy battleground between Democrats and Republicans for almost a decade now.

Versions of this story played out all through the night as progressive ballot initiatives on marijuana, the minimum wage, voting rights, and Medicaid passed in red and blue states alike—a reminder that even in parts of the country where Democratic politicians aren’t popular, many of their issues very much still are.

Along with Utah, blood-red Idaho and Nebraska also embraced Medicaid expansion. Between the three, more than 300,000 lower income Americans could become eligible for coverage under the program.

Over in the Ozarks, Missouri residents voted to gradually increase the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour and to legalize medical marijuana, all while sending moderate Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill packing in favor of the state’s conservative attorney general, Josh Hawley. With its left hand, Arkansas passed a minimum wage hike —to $11 by 2021. With its right, it re-elected Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who had opposed the measure.

Purplish Michigan, which sent a Democrat to the governor’s mansion this year, opted to legalize recreational marijuana.

Meanwhile, Florida, which broke Democrats’ hearts in a pair of close elections for governor and Senate, also passed a felon re-enfranchisement bill restoring voting rights to 1.4 million individuals—giving progressives an iota of hope for the Sunshine State’s future. It was a reasonably solid night for voting rights and good government initiatives elsewhere too: Colorado and Michigan both adopted nonpartisan redistricting commissions to avoid congressional gerrymandering in the future; a handful of states passed automatic or same-day voter registration.

The point here isn’t that Americans are somehow hypocrites or misguided for supporting Democratic priorities while voting against actual Democratic politicians. Issues like immigration, gun rights, and abortion loom large (often, largest) in red states, after all. It’s perfectly comprehensible that a Trump-loving voter in Arkansas or Missouri might vote for the guy with an R by his name, while supporting higher wages.

Progressive ballot initiatives didn’t sweep the night either. Montana decided to discontinue its Medicaid expansion, after a initiative that would have funded it with cigarette taxes failed. Medical marijuana appears to have gone down in North Dakota. Voter ID initiatives passed in Arkansas and North Carolina.

Still, it’ s a reminder that good chunks of the Democratic agenda are fundamentally pretty well-liked. As red states embraced Medicaid expansion, Democrats retook the House on a campaign focused largely on maintaining protections for Americans with pre-existing health conditions—a reminder that Americans like most things about Obamacare these days, except the name. The campaign to up the minimum wage keeps notching wins. Marijuana is legal for medical use in 33 states, and for recreational use in 10. And in some key states, allowing people to vote is still apparently considered a good idea.

Health care, higher wages, and getting high: Democrats could pick a worse platform for 2020.