Guns, Pot, and Politics—5 Surprising Reasons the Midterm Elections Mattered

The Senate isn’t the only thing that changed overnight.

(Photo: Lew Robertson/Getty Images)

Nov 5, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Shaya Tayefe Mohajer is TakePart's News Editor.

By now, you've heard that the Republicans took control of the Senate and kept control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections on Tuesday. Campaigning against Obamacare and banking on the president's unpopularity paid off in tight Senate races in North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa, and Kansas, resulting in a 52–44 Republican advantage in that chamber. Republicans also gained 14 seats in the House of Reps, broadening their advantage 243–178.

But here are a few things you may have missed if you didn't dig past the headlines about the horse race and the cable-news talking heads who yapped all night about what everything means.

Pot for Play in the USA

Use of recreational marijuana was approved by voters in three races—Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia—but what you may not know is one of those ballot box wins faces a challenge from Congress.

Voters in Washington, D.C., approved Initiative 71 by a margin of more than two to one. But to allow residents and visitors over the age of 21 to possess up to two ounces of pot and grow up to three marijuana plants at home, it will have to survive a 60-day congressional review period. During that time, Congress can vote to veto it, and then it would fall to President Obama to decide whether or not to halt the measure, The Washington Post reports.

Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., is vowing to oppose Initiative 71, and that could force the debate about recreational use of marijuana into the national spotlight, as the country is increasingly open to the idea of selling marijuana for regulated vice use, like cigarettes or alcohol.

Gun Control Won in Washington

In a rare win against the powerful weapons lobby, Washington state voted Tuesday to require universal background checks for all gun buyers, ending the loophole for those purchasing weapons at gun shows and in private sales.

Gun control backers raised more than $10 million—five times what gun rights groups raised this year, according to The Seattle Times—including funds from major donors Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg.

How did the gun control backers beat the National Rifle Association's notorious hold on politics? They appealed directly to the public, as politicians have proved to be cement-booted on this issue. Washingtonians sided with better controls, according to polls, even before the recent violence—a deadly shooting at a Washington high school, which claimed its fourth victim this week when 14-year-old Shaylee Chuckulnaskit succumbed to a bullet wound to the head.

But many national tragedies have come and gone without changing one iota of gun control law. Washington, gun control advocates hope, could signal a shifting tide in the national conversation about safe weapon use.

Crying Foul in Ferguson

Voters from the Missouri city that has become an epicenter for dialogue about American racial strife since the police shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown weren't able to unseat local politicians as promised.

Democrat Steve Stenger squeaked by to win the race for St. Louis county executive with the tiniest of margins—less than 2,000 votes separated him from his opponent.

That didn't stop a handful of protesters from interrupting his victory speech with calls for justice. In addition to failing to unseat Stenger, protesters weren't able to get as many people registered to vote as they wanted to, preventing some folks from getting to the ballot boxes.

This goes to show that even the most persistent protest in recent American history faces an uphill battle when it comes to changing political realities.

That Lady Who Rush Limbaugh Called a "Slut" in 2012

You might remember her as the Georgetown Law student who became the poster child for free birth control after she testified during Obamacare hearings and spoke at the Democratic National Convention.

Her name is Sandra Fluke, and she tried to win a state Senate seat in California this election season. Voters from the Ventura County–centered district backed Democrat Ben Allen instead.

But with a newly Republican Congress, Obamacare is likely to come under fresh scrutiny, which means we might be seeing more of Fluke as a women's rights activist.

Personhood Is Still Not a Thing

Antiabortion groups have been trying to pass laws that give embryos the same rights as humans for years, but they have never succeeded. This year's ballot measures in Colorado and North Dakota failed.

FiveThirtyEight reports that voters are "generally leery" of such extreme measures because they bar women from seeking abortions, even in cases of incest and rape. Even traditionally conservative states, like Mississippi, have deemed those views as too extreme.

That doesn't mean this debate won't continue to paint the American political landscape for many years to come.