The 2018 Midterm Elections Are Over. What’s Next?

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Andrew Pulrang

November 13, 2018

Election Day was last Tuesday, November 6. Were you eligible? Were you registered? Did you vote? Did you have any problems at the polls, because of accessibility, getting help if you needed it, or glitches in the voting system itself?

Whether you voted or not, the results will affect all of us over the next two years and probably longer. Here is a basic rundown of the results, in New York State and nationally, as of November 13, 2018:

New York State Results

Democratic U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand easily won re-election over Republican Chele Farley, 66.5% to 33.5%. In the next Congress, there will be 20 Democrats from New York in the House, and 5 Republicans, an increase of two seats for New York Democrats and a loss of two for Republicans.

Meanwhile, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo decisively won re-election over Republican Marc Molinaro, 59% to 36.8%. Democrats won control of the New York State Senate, 37 seats for Democrats, 21 for the Republicans, with five races yet to be decided. And in the State Assembly, Democrats won 107 seats, Republicans 42, and one is not decided yet. This puts Democrats solidly in control of the New York State government for the first time in many years.

National Results

Republicans held on to their Senate majority, now with 51 Republican seats to the Democrats’ 47, with Florida’s race still in the recount. Democrats took control of the House, with 227 Democratic seats, a gain of 32, and 198 seats for Republicans, with 10 races still undecided. Also, there are now 7 more Democratic state governors, though Republicans still hold more governorships overall, with 26 states to the Democrats’ 23. Note that the governor’s races in Florida and Georgia are still undecided.

Arguably the most important development of the 2018 Midterms is the pretty dramatic House flip from Republican to Democratic control. It’s hard to say what this will mean for the next few years, but it looks like it will at least help prevent some of the more immediate policy threats to disabled people, such as:

  • Further legislation to dismantle what’s left of the Affordable Care Act,
  • Efforts to significantly cut or limit “entitlements” like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security Disability,
  • More bills like H.R. 620, that would weaken the Americans with Disabilities Act

On the other hand, a more solidly Republican Senate will be able to confirm almost anyone President Trump nominates to executive positions and federal courts, including the Supreme Court. This could have a very long-term effect on all sorts of disability issues. It could also put serious limits on what a future Democratic or progressive President and Congress could do over the next 10 or 20 years.

For example, a “Medicare For All” type of healthcare bill could be passed by healthy majorities and signed by a future President, but more conservative federal courts could then declare enough of it unconstitutional to make implementation a lot harder. This is part of what happened with the Affordable Care Act, which was a much more modest bill, yet was repeatedly attacked in the courts, which struck large parts of it down.

Here in New York, Democratic control of the State Senate could have both encouraging and worrisome consequences. There may be a better chance now for increased funding of disability-related programs like home care, vocational rehabilitation, and Independent Living Centers. On the other hand, it may be harder for the disability rights community to fend off another round of “physician-assisted suicide” bills, since Democrats are generally more supportive of such measures than Republicans.

If the disability rights movement has learned one thing over the last 30 years it’s that differences between Democrats and Republicans get a lot more subtle and unpredictable where disability issues are concerned. It’s not that the parties make no difference on these issues. It’s just that they often make less difference than expected.

So, what do we do now, and going forward?’’

First, let’s redouble our efforts to make all parts of the political process more accessible. It’s not just about accessible polling places either. It’s also about voter ID laws and signature matching requirements that in some states pose real barriers to people with disabilities. We might also consider the pros and cons of voting by mail, automatic or same-day registration, and other measures to make voting easier and more flexible for everyone.

Second, we need to continue educating Democrats on disability issues. Even though collectively they are probably more likely to safeguard our interests than Republicans are, we should never assume that any given Democrat will truly understand and support our priorities. After all, some Democrats supported the anti-ADA bill in Congress, and you never know when a nervous longtime New York Democrat will choose a health care workers union position on nursing homes over the freedom of disabled people.

At the same time, we need to identify Republicans who might support certain disability priorities. Realistically, there may not be many of them. But they do exist, and we should make sure they know that we see them and appreciate what they are able to do to support us. This could mean opening up lines of communication with Republican governors who support home care and individualized services or building tentative, very individual relationships with conservative members of Congress who have a personal or familial connection to the disability experience.

Most importantly, both with Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives, we have to keep our heads at all times. We can’t allow ourselves to get carried away, either by rage or enthusiasm. And none of this requires us to dilute our core beliefs, or bail on other critical and intersecting issues like race, immigration, and LGBTQ recognition and equality. We don’t have to make ourselves bland and inoffensive in order to reach out sensibly, strategically, and in good faith.

Next, between now and 2020, we should identify and support people with disabilities who have the desire and potential to run for office and win. But it’s not enough just to have disabled people in office. We want them to be well-rounded of course, but candidates with disabilities should be able to say clearly how their disability experience affects their approach to specific policies and issues.

A good example is Senator Tammy Duckworth. She is a double amputee, wheelchair-using veteran with a broad and diverse political profile. She isn’t the most radical or visible disability activist, but when it counts she speaks out forcefully on disability issues as a disabled person, and her votes show that she knows what it means to be a disabled member of Congress. We need more Tammy Duckworths.

Finally, we need to focus on the tough, unglamorous work of registering more disabled people to vote and helping increase the number of disabled people who actually vote on election days. That means making doubly sure you are registered, that your polling place is accessible to you, that you vote, even in off-year elections for school boards and town councils. It also means talking to your family, friends, and fellow disabled people about how your disability experiences affect your votes, and about how everyone’s votes really do affect people with disabilities, here and New York, and nationwide.

Plus, it’s not too early to start looking for Presidential candidates. 2020 is only two years away!