Voters reject nearly all ballot measures on issues of Catholic concern
November 15th, 2016
By Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON – In this year’s election, voters went against nearly all of the ballot initiatives backed by Catholic leaders and advocates, except the referendums on minimum wage increases and gun control measures.
Voters passed an assisted suicide measure in Colorado and voted in favor of the death penalty in three states and in favor of legalized recreational marijuana in four states and against it in one. They also voted for minimum wage increases and gun control measures in four states.
In Colorado, the only state with an initiative to legalize assisted suicide, voters passed the measure, making the state the sixth in the nation with a so-called “right-to-die law,” joining Washington, Oregon, California, Vermont and Montana.
“The decision the voters of Colorado have made to legalize physician-assisted suicide via the passage of Proposition 106 is a great travesty of compassion and choice for the sick, the poor, the elderly and our most vulnerable residents,” said Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference.
The three death penalty referendums before voters this year all ended in favor of capital punishment. Bishops and Catholic conferences in these states had engaged in efforts to educate Catholics in particular on this issue and urge them to vote against it.
Oklahoma voters re-approved the use of the death penalty after the state’s attorney general had suspended executions last year. Nebraska voters also reinstated the death penalty, which had been banned by state lawmakers last year; the vote was 60.9 percent for the death penalty and 39.1 percent against it.
In California, voters defeated a ballot measure to repeal death penalty in the state and narrowly passed an initiative aiming to speed up executions of death row convictions.
Karen Clifton, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, the national Catholic organization working to end the death penalty, said in a Nov. 9 statement that “despite referendum losses” in the three states, she was hopeful “the country will continue to move away from the death penalty and toward a greater respect for life.” She also praised the work of Catholics on the state level to end the death penalty.
Voters in California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine approved recreational marijuana initiatives, while Arizona voters rejected it. California, Massachusetts and Arizona bishops spoke out against the initiatives.
The Boston Archdiocese spent $850,000 in a last-minute effort to defeat the ballot measure, saying increased drug use was a threat to those served by the Catholic Church’s health and social-service programs. A Boston Globe report on the campaign quoted an archdiocesan spokesman who said the money was from a discretionary, unrestricted central ministry fund.
In a statement opposing the ballot measure, the Massachusetts Catholic bishops referenced a report from the National Institute of Drug Abuse that said marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States.
“Its widespread use and abuse, particularly by young people under the age of 18, is steadily increasing while scientific evidence clearly links its long-term damaging effects on brain development,” the bishops said.
In Arizona, Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted said in a postelection statement: “I give thanks to God that Arizona voters rejected the measure to legalize recreational marijuana, thereby safeguarding many, especially children and young people, from the falsehood that drug use is socially and morally acceptable. Our state will be a safer place for kids and families because this measure was defeated.”
On minimum wage ballots, voters in Maine, Arizona and Colorado voted to increase the minimum wage to at least $12 an hour by 2020 and in Washington they voted to increase it to $13.50 an hour by 2020. Catholic Charities USA has long been a proponent of raising the minimum wage as have other groups that work to reduce poverty.
Gun control measures passed in three states – California, Nevada and Washington – and lost in Maine.
Measures on climate change, an issue backed by the Catholic Climate Covenant, were rejected by voters. In Washington state, a ballot initiative called for the first carbon tax in the U.S., and a Florida measure would have restricted the ability of homeowners to sell electricity created through rooftop solar panels.
Joe Ruff in Omaha and Tony Gutierrez in Phoenix contributed to this story.
From November 17, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.