Kansans vote decisively to protect abortion rights in state constitution. Senate GOP (belatedly) approves care for sick veterans after backlash. Sri Lankans wait in line for days to buy gas.
Kansans decisively reject amendment that would have eliminated their right to an abortion
Kansans turned out in force yesterday to vote down a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that would have done away with a woman’s right to an abortion in Kansas. The proposed “Value them Both” or (VTB) amendment would have undone a 2019 ruling by the state’s Supreme Court which found that Kansas’ constitutional right to privacy guaranteed a right to an abortion.
Polling ahead of yesterday’s vote predicted that the “yes” (in favor of the VTB amendment) vs. “no” vote would be close, with “yes” slightly ahead. Ultimately, the vote was not remotely close. While the full tally isn’t in yet, projections show “no” winning nearly 60% of the vote.
The result in favor of abortion access in Kansas is stunning for several reasons. The pro-choice group Kansans for Constitutional Rights, which spearheaded the “no” campaign, managed a decisive victory despite several institutional barriers in the state.
A stacked deck
In general, Kansas is a very conservative state. No Democratic presidential candidate has carried Kansas since 1964.
Kansas’ Republican dominated legislature also chose to put this ballot initiative on primary ballots rather than waiting till the general election, likely because Republicans generally outnumber Democrats 2-to-1 in the state’s primaries.
But the strategy backfired. Resistance to the measure generated an unusually high turnout for a Kansas primary. In Kansas’ last midterm primary in 2018, turnout was just slightly more than 450,000. Yesterday’s turnout doubled that number with more than 900,000 people voting.
Even in Sedgewick County, the state’s 2nd-largest county (which Trump won by 11 points in 2020), 59% of voters voted against Value them Both.
Deceptive, misleading and confusing ads and ballot language
Attempts to stack the deck in favor of Value them Both went beyond burying the ballot initiative in the state’s usually poorly-attended primaries. Republican legislators worded the measure on the ballot itself in a manner that was intentionally confusing and deceptive. Not only that, the Value Them Both Association aired misleading TV spots on major local affiliate networks, designed to downplay the possibility that a “yes” vote could lead to a ban on all abortions in the state.
What these ads do not mention is that, in its most recent session, Kansas’ Republican-led legislature proposed House Bill 2746, which would have banned nearly all abortions in the state. Although Kansas currently has a Democratic governor, Republicans hold enough of both houses of the legislature to override the governor’s veto of any such legislation. That now cannot happen thanks to Kansans’ resounding vote in favor of abortion access in yesterday’s primary.
What it means
Kansas is the first state to put abortion on the ballot since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. The results in the generally solid Red State closely reflects nationwide polling on the issue of abortion.
Most telling are the deceptive ads aired by the pro-life Value them Both Association, and the misleading ballot language used by Kansas Republicans, both groups claiming to be on the morally correct side of this issue. Both the ads and the wording of the ballot seem tailored to appeal to moderates on the issue of abortion, who favor limits on abortion rather than total bans. The misleading messaging seems to be a tacit admission by the extreme pro-life lobby that popular sentiment is not with them. In recent polls, even Republican support for total abortion bans is much softer than the extreme pro-life lobby would like.
More broadly, however, national Democrats should not take this result, stunning though it is, to be a sign of things to come in the midterms. While the abortion issue may mobilize Democratic voters, Democrat politicians should not expect it to drive much Republican crossover in the general elections.
Senate GOP (belatedly) approves care for sick veterans after backlash
Last week, 25 Republican Senators who had previously voted in favor of the Honoring Our Pact Act switched to voting against it. The Honoring Our Pact Act guarantees healthcare coverage to veterans who suffered severe health effect due to toxin exposures during their service. The reversal stunned veterans groups who had been lobbying for such legislation for years.
Republicans’ decision to vote down the legislation seems to have been a bit of spiteful political tit-for-tat. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was angry that Democrats had gone back on a promise not to pass any reconciliation bills in exchange for Republican votes on a bill to boost domestic microchip manufacturing. In an apparent fit of pique over having his own playbook used against him, McConnell tanked the second Senate vote for the Honoring Our Pact Act when it returned to the chamber after minor tweaking in the House.
Comedian and activist John Stewart bluntly condemned Republicans for this betrayal of sick veterans and rejected their assertions about “budget gimmicks” in the bill as “Bullshit”. Click here to see Stewart’s fiery speech after Republicans voted down the bill last week. Stewart has been actively campaigning alongside veterans for the bill’s passage.
Following Stewart’s tongue-lashing and a widespread backlash, Senate Republicans at last consented to pass the bill last night, 86-11.
Sri Lankans wait in line for days for gas
Last month, massive demonstrations by fed-up Sri Lankans managed to drive out the country’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Hundreds of thousands of protesters converged on the presidential palace and the prime minister’s residence and even occupied the palace for several days. Rajapaksa had already fled, first to Dubai, then to Singapore. The protesters blamed Rajapaksa’s mismanagement of the country’s finances for its current dire predicament. Unable to pay its international debts, the country can no longer import food or gas. Many formerly prosperous Sri Lankans skipped meals.
Weeks after the handover to the country’s acting president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, the situation for average Sri Lankans hasn’t appreciably improved. People are still lining up for days outside gas stations to get their paltry weekly gas ration, and food remains in short supply. Inflation remains over 60%.
Wickremesinghe is proving to be just as unpopular as his predecessor, despite his promises to fulfill protesters’ demands. The demands include a new constitutional amendment to limit the president’s powers, and the formation of a unity government. Wickremesinghe has promised to do both these things, but hasn’t set a firm timeline. He’s currently attempting to secure another loan from the International Monetary Fund.
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