Three Controversial Propositions Rejected

In yesterday’s elections, three rather juicy propositions were considered by three different states, and all three were rejected, some by margins wider than others. Let’s consider:


First, Colorado voted against its horrible fetal personhood amendment at the definitive  rate of 3-1. Amendment 62, the so-called “personhood” amendment, which would define “personhood” as beginning at “biological development” in an underhanded attempt to restrict women’s access to safe abortion services and reduce their reproductive agency, was defeated for the second time by a large margin.  Thankfully, Colorado rejected this dangerous amendment but we have to remain on watch because if history has taught us anything, it’s that right-wing extremists will be back, pushing these measures and chipping away at our rights. RHRealityCheck’s Jodi Jacobson predicts that they will be trying to pass similar amendments in other states, such as Mississippi. To read more about the history of the so-called “fetal personhood” movement, check out RHRealityCheck’s past coverage.

Photobucket Second, in another overwhelming defeat, Rhode Island voters refused to support a name change in the state, to remove the word “plantation” from the state’s title, among other things. The full title of the state as it stands now is  “the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantation” and the ballot initiative would have changed it to simply “the State of Rhode Island”. I personally am offended at the symbolism behind the majority of the state (almost 78%) actively choosing to keep the word “plantation” in title of their state, given Rhode Island’s role in the slave trade. Apparently, the Providence population is more concerned with keeping the name of their town in the title of their state than they are with removing offensive and outdated language from our modern vernacular.


Lastly, California’s infamous Prop 19, also known as the “Regulate, Control & Tax Cannabis Act” was voted down yesterday. This proposition would have allowed adults 21+ to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and consume it for recreational use. Despite the fact that the initiative garnered just 40% of the vote, some proponents are claiming a “moral victory” and already planning to pursue a similar ballot initiative in future elections.

Also, perhaps my very favorite sentence amidst the barrage of election coverage came from the New York Times on this very topic:

Added Jeremy Daw, 30, who was puffing on a lengthy spliff as the returns came in: “I feel deflated.”

What do you think of these three propositions? Are these matters to be decided upon by referendum? Do you wish these states had chosen differently? And what to make of the decidedly national effects of an explicitly state-based proposition?

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • C

    Re: The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantation

    The plantation in the name just means “settlement”–it has nothing to do with the sort of slave-owning Southern plantations that we think of now when we hear that word. And Rhode Island does have a long and troubling history of involvement with the slave trade. But Providence Plantation, which began as its own separate entity, was very much anti-slavery. Removing its name from the official title of Rhode Island would be silencing some of the best parts of its history. Maybe we should looks at that measure’s defeat as a victory for history.
    More here:

  • Blue Ridge

    For whatever it’s worth, Josh Marshall pointed out a few days ago that the ”plantations” of Roger Williams’ ”Providence Plantations” referred to settlers, not to agricultural plantations with slave labor, and in fact the settlers of Providence Plantations were actually some of the first anti-slavery voices in the American colonies:

  • Cynthia Krohn

    Don’t want to be too fussy about the Rhode Island thing, but New Englanders do like their history, at least to a certain extent. (I used to be one.) I know that RI merchants controlled most of the overseas slave trade and that we associate the word “plantation” with slavery, but Rhode Island was one of the first to ban slavery in the state, both pre- and post-independence. “Providence Plantation” goes back to Roger Williams and the founding of the colony. I think the refusal to change the name of the state has more to do with the recognition of the history of the state than a love of slavery or the slave trade.

  • nicolechat

    I’m gonna say something that might be controversial.

    I’m Canadian, and I’ve lately found myself somewhat baffled by the number of things Americans vote on. In Canada, we don’t tend to vote on laws like this. We vote to elect politicians and have held other referendums – the infamous Quebec separatist referendums*, for instance, or referendums in certain provinces to change the electoral system. But when it comes to the passage of laws or human rights policies, that matter is up to the the legislative bodies that write and decide on laws, and the courts that can decide whether certain laws/policies/behaviours are unconstitutional.

    And isn’t that, well, better? Changing the electoral system – or, hell, deciding to separate and form your own country – is too big for the court because it changes the way a country runs. It doesn’t just change the laws coming and going within that government’s structure, which is what courts are built to handle – it is building a new structure altogether. So of course that is worthy of a vote from the general public. To not give people a say in that sort of thing would feel like democracy is being ripped right out from under them, and their country is being stolen.

    But as for the passage of laws, I think that is why we elect policians in the first place. Sure, most politicians aren’t awesome and can’t all be trusted and are prone to corruption and, of course, often don’t truly represent the beliefs of the country’s citizens. (Canada is a prime example of this, by the way, where our current Conservative government was voted in by a minority of citizens – most Canadians don’t want them there, but they got more votes than any other pary [we have a very divided left wing base] so here they are, leading us. Ugh.)

    But still, politicians and, more importantly, the Supreme Court of Canada are there to decide what should and should not be illegal in our country. And I think that makes sense. Do the courts always make decisions I, or even most Canadians, agree with? Hell no. But they are staffed by people who understand law and politics far better than the average Canadian citizen. The idea that any old shmoe in my country could actually have a say in whether or not an illegal substance should become legal is terrifying to me. It means that uninformed people, who know nothing about the implications (economic, criminal, social, etc etc) of such a change, will decide whether or not to change it. That’s why Prop 19 didn’t pass: because to some people, many people, drugs=bad and that’s all they know and that’s all they care about. That is far too simplistic of a way to handle such a legal issue. Same deal with same-sex marriage; it wasn’t up the voting base when we legalized it nationally in Canada. A court decided it was unconstitutional, and when that happened, that was it: constitutional rights are being violated, time to fix the problem. It doesn’t matter whether the bigots (or the bleeding heart liberals, for that matter) think it’s ok; it matters that the courts authorize what will become a legal transaction between two adults.

    So what’s important, if you really want to make something happen, is making sure governements know what the majority of its people want; it can even reduce fear-mongering scare tactics in the lead-up to ballot voting. It should not be up to some uninformed voter to decide whether a person gets to smoke a joint, or keeps her baby, or marries his boyfriend; it should be up to the systems that are put in place to decide what is safe and responsible and beneficial for the population at large.

    (I think the Rhode Island name change made sense on the ballot though – that’s a matter of identity, not law. And it’s a shame it didn’t pass.)

    *I think this is pretty internationally well-known, but just in case, in short: There is a strong (but dwindling, lately) movement of French Canadians in Quebec who want their province to separate from Canada. The province has held a general vote on this twice, and both times the electorate very narrowly voted the proposition down.

    • athenia

      I don’t think your post is controversial–most of us would agree I think!

      Actually, I think our process are very similar—yeah, legislatures can create laws and whatnot and the court can strike them down if they are unconsitutional.

      The rub, then, is changing the state constitution which a lot of people on the right like to do because then the courts *have* to rule in their favor.

      I’m not sure if that’s the case in these cases, but I imagine that if someone got enough signatures, it can be put on the ballot.

    • chelsa

      I agree with your comment in it’s entirety, but I’m Canadian to, so big surprise there. Legitimately though, we would never have gay marriage rights here in Alberta if it were up to even our provincial politicians!

      That being said, I really wanted to comment about the Quebec seperatist thing, because I was probably around 9 when the referendum happened, and I always pictured them wrapping a big band around Quebec and physically moving it out of Canada. Which was just unfathomable. I couldn’t imagine why we’d want to split up Canada…

      • nicolechat

        Hahaha I was ten for the last one and I pictured something similar. I didn’t get how a province that is centrally located within the country could “separate” – it was a physical process in my mind.

  • Nick

    The Rhode Island thing is interesting (to me, at least). In modern parlance, of course, “plantation” is a word associated with our shameful legacy of slavery. But Josh Marshall at TPM made the case a few days ago that, in dropping “Providence Plantations” from the state name, voters would actually be erasing part of the legacy of anti-slavery in Rhode Island.

    It’s a bit wonky, but I’ll quote part of it here:

    The folks in ‘Providence Plantations’ were among the first principled opponents of slavery anywhere in the Americas, certainly in New England and by most measures everywhere in North America. Folks like Roger Williams, Samuel Gorton and a bunch of other guys who died more than three centuries ago whose letters and records I spent way too much time reading in my 20s. It’s a fascinating legacy. The roots of slavery in Rhode Island, both as an internal institution and as a key force in the slave trade, came from the other original colony, Rhode Island and settlements in southern Rhode Island that were tied to it.

    Essentially, ‘Providence Plantations’ meant something else 4 centuries ago when it was founded, and ‘Rhode Island’ colony was the heart of the region’s slave trade.

    I’ll quote his conclusion too:

    I get the reasons for trying to change the name. In modern English, ‘plantation’ means a southern estate with black slaves picking cotton. And the state is for the its living residents and citizens, not what someone who’s got some relatively obscure historical knowledge about what these ancient names mean. Still, for all the reasons I’ve stated, if they trim the state’s name down to just “Rhode Island” I think it will be a big mistake.

    In a way, this controversy (of which I was unaware until I read Josh’s article) reminds me of the incident in Washington DC in 1999 where an official was forced to resign for using the word niggardly. (A word with no racial connotation. He was later rehired.) Do we conduct ourselves according to popular misconceptions, in order to avoid giving offense, or do we conduct ourselves according to factual truth, even when some might not understand, and thus be hurt? It’s not an easy question, and while I tend to come down on the side of facts, I also can’t say that I’d want to casually say niggardly in a conversation, since I’m aware that it might be misunderstood.

  • Anna Bean

    Another controversial proposition rejected was “Prop D” in San Francisco, which would have allowed all parents of public school children, regardless of citizenship, to vote for School Board members.

    In an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle, Kathleen Coll discusses the history of noncitizen voting, and argues very convincingly for this measure to pass:

    “Some argue that institutions such as the school board can be accountable to immigrants whether or not they vote. As women and people of color know, these were the same arguments used to justify our disenfranchisement – that our husbands, fathers, brothers, employers, neighbors and indeed slave-owners were better suited to running the government on our behalf. Others assert that voting is an exclusive right of citizens, but the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed in multiple rulings that citizenship is not a requirement of voting. Our state Constitution guarantees the voting rights of U.S. citizens, but it does not preclude immigrant voting. As a charter city, San Francisco is legally entitled to determine the manner of electing local officials.”

    Lots to think about here regarding voting as a right of citizenship or as a privilege that everyone should have as a contributing resident.

  • nazza

    Some issues seem to be pertinent only to a state or region. These ones underscore that it was swing voters and independents who decided many elections. Some voters support Democratic candidates no matter and some do the same for Republicans, but there’s still a huge bloc of voters whose allegiance is always in flux.

  • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    At least that monstrosity in Colorado was defeated.

  • nikki hollingshead

    As someone who was a member of the 78% who voted down the RI name change yesterday, I’ll share a couple of brief reasons. One is that I don’t think it helps any matters to not face the role that this state played in the name change. The past is behind us but can you really argue that it’s better to eliminate the word “plantation” because it’s insensitive? I find it more insensitive that people states choose more often to sweep that part of America’s history under the rug and refuse to acknowledge it.

    And further, let’s look at the RI preamble:
    “We, the people of this State which state shall henceforth be known as the state of Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations, grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing upon our endeavors to secure and to transmit the same, unimpaired, to succeeding generations, do ordain and establish this Constitution of government”

    I’m offended by a lot more than just “Plantations”….

  • nikki

    As someone who was a member of the 78% who voted down the RI name change yesterday, I’ll share a couple of my reasons. One is that I don’t think it helps to eliminate any symbol that this state played in the slave trade. As they say, the past is past, but I find it more insensitive that states choose more often than not to sweep that part of state’s and America’s history under the rug. Whether you hear plantations and think farm or think slavery, at least you’re thinking about.

    And further, let’s look at the RI preamble:
    “We, the people of the state of Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations, grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing upon our endeavors to secure and to transmit the same, unimpaired, to succeeding generations, do ordain and establish this Constitution of government”

    I’m offended by a lot more than just “Plantations”. If we’re going to give the name an overhaul, let’s not stop with just one word.

  • jillian

    a few election cycles ago, a small suburb of fort worth had a proposition to change it’s name from white settlement to west settlement. the history of the name, goes back to when fort worth was actually a fort and the area other main population was native americans. it was overwhelmingly rejected.,_Texas#Name

    whether we should scrub history of uncouth elements when compared to our modern sensitivities aside, it would be a major pain in the ass as well as very costly to go around changing all official documents, utility vehicles, street signs, etc. reflect, learn, live and move on.

    • Rayna

      yeah maybe if we did change the name the whole city wouldnt be haunted , they bult a number of apartments on top of native american burrial grounds , they now have a carnival every year celebrating the white defeat of the native americans, I also wonder Where is the Native American Settlement?but i digress. White settlement is mostly a white lower class town. with most people under the poverty line. I think most people are just concerned with keeping thier electricity on than on a city’s stupid name .. Belive me I lived there and my mother grew up there . I know almost all you can know about white settlement. lol

  • acontra

    Prop 19 got 46% of the vote (not 40%). Not too unreasonable to suppose that it might pass in a presidential election year when younger voters are more likely to show up.

  • Annie D

    I think you need to be more precise about what you are objecting to in the fetal personhood legislation. I think the problem is not that people believe fetuses have some form of personhood but that they wish to impose their choice upon others. Meeting somebody else’s absolute moral judgment with another absolute moral judgement is no way to resolve conflicts. The only views in the abortion debate which can be legitimately criticised are those which seek to entrench your own moral views without regard to real controversies.

    The issue of abortion is one I have struggled with personally for a long time, trying to combine my beliefs as as catholic with feminism. My conclusion is that it is not a simple scenario in which one party has an absolute right but a complex choice which can only be made by the individuals concerned when they find themselves faced with the choice. What the state needs to do is not pronounce moral judgment but provide support for women, whichever direction they choose to take.

    My conclusion is that while I would find abortion a difficult moral choice for myself, there is no right answer and I proudly stand up withy straight sisters to fight for our right to make the choice ourselves and with reference to the circumstances.