In South Dakota and Nebraska Deep Red, voters used ballot initiatives to reduce inequality

This fall, in the run-up to the midterm elections, a group of Catholic nuns, Protestant ministers and other religious leaders caravanned through South Dakota on what they called a “Love Your Neighbor Tour.” .

They stopped at grocery stores, restaurants, senior centers, libraries and other community gathering places to start conversations about health insurance. They heard story after story of family members, friends and neighbors struggling to afford quality health care.

The purpose of this tour: to build support for a ballot initiative to help more South Dakotans get the care they need.

Through such initiatives, citizens can circumvent elected officials who have become disconnected from their constituents.

In this year’s elections, voters over 30 states engaged in this form of direct democracy. These voters raised taxes on the wealthy in Massachusetts and Los Angeles, funded universal preschool and child care in New Mexico, and clamped down on medical debt in Arizona.

In South Dakota, the “Love Your Neighbor” campaign won big. By a margin of 56 to 44, voters approved a proposal to force their state government to expand Medicaid eligibility, a move that will help about 42,500 working-class people get treatment.

These people earn too much to qualify for the state’s existing Medicaid program, but too little to access private insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Since 2010, the federal government has covered 90% of the costs when states expand Medicaid, but political leaders in South Dakota and 11 other states refused to do so.

This isn’t the first time South Dakotans have used effective strategies of people-to-people organizing and ballot initiatives for the good of their neighbors.

In 2016, a bipartisan coalition with strong support from the faith community won an incredible victory against financial predators, winning 76% support for a ballot impose a 36% interest rate cap on payday loans. Previously, those rates averaged around 600% in South Dakota, trapping many low-income families in a downward spiral of debt.

In this midterm election season, Nebraska offers another inspiring example of citizen action to circumvent out-of-touch politicians.

For 13 years now, Republicans in Congress have blocked efforts to raise the federal minimum wage, leaving it stuck at $7.25 since 2009. Nebraska’s entire congressional delegation — all Republicans — has always opposed the hikes minimum wage. Rep. Adrian Smith, for example, recently attacked President Biden’s $15 federal minimum proposal as “economically harmful.”

Nebraskans view the issue differently.

Voters there approved an increase in the state minimum wage to the same level Biden has proposed — $15 an hour — by 2026. The measure, which sailed with 58% supportwill mean larger paychecks for approximately 150,000 Nebraskans.

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