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From legal pot to Airbnb limits, 2015 election offers test cases to watch

On this Election Day, a handful of states voted to elect state and local leaders and decide a number of ballot measures, from the legalization of marijuana to the expansion of LGBT protections. Judy Woodruff gets a rundown of the contests from Reid Wilson of Morning Consult.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The presidential election may still be a year away, but a handful of states voted today to elect state and local leaders and decide on a number of important ballot measures. Issues ranged from the legalization of marijuana to the expansion of LGBT protections.

    For a look at the big races and voter initiatives around the country, we are joined by Reid Wilson of the Web site and newsletter Morning Consult.

    So, welcome, Reid Wilson.

    Let's start out talking about some of these major ballot measures around the country, Ohio looking at legalizing marijuana, but in a limited way. Tell us about that one.

  • REID WILSON, Morning Consult:

    Ohio would become fifth state along with the District of Columbia to legalize marijuana for recreational use, but there is a little twist here.

    As states create new laws about marijuana, they have to come up with new regulatory structures. Nobody has ever regulated marijuana, because it's always simply been illegal. So what Ohio is thinking of doing is allowing 10 groups, 10 businesses to control production for the first four years or so.

    It seems a way to sort of control what makes it to the market and to sort of demand some quality. However, there are a lot of people who are worried that they're essentially handing over monopoly control of a major industry — and it is a major industry — there are millions at stake here — to just a small handful of people, including some very wealthy investors.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, if this passed, it would set a precedent. It would be different.

  • REID WILSON:

    Well, every state that has legalized marijuana has done so in a slightly different way. Washington State regulates it like alcohol. Colorado regulates it in a sort of slightly different way that allows sellers to grow their own marijuana.

    Everybody is sort of trying to figure out what's right, what is the right way to do these things. The big question is, what is going to come on the ballot in 2016? There are at least 17 states that are considering some kind of marijuana legislation or ballot initiatives, including 10 alone in the state of California.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And you were telling us that's a way the look at several of these ballot measures.

    Let's look at — talk about two of the city measures. In Houston, you have voters looking at nondiscrimination protection for LGBT individuals. This has become very controversial, and a lot of focus on public restrooms.

  • REID WILSON:

    Yes, it has.

    And last year, a nondiscrimination law passed the city of Houston. This measure, if it passes tonight, would repeal that previous nondiscrimination measure. And the focus on restrooms, I think, sort of hints at the next step in the fight over gay rights. The focus on restrooms has to do with those who are transgendered.

    Now, there's public support for people — for nondiscrimination against those who are transgendered has lagged behind public support for nondiscrimination against gays and lesbians. So this is a way to sort of shift the focus from a question that opponents of this nondiscrimination law would lose to some other element that they might have a better pathway to toward a majority of public opinion.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, again, hotly controversial there in Houston.

    Meanwhile, San Francisco is looking at an initiative on Airbnb. This is the company that helps you rent out a room in your house, rent out your apartment. Tell us about that one.

  • REID WILSON:

    Well, what this legislation would do is, it would limit the ability of homeowners to rent out their apartments on a short-term basis, their apartments, their homes, whatever room they have to rent. It would limit it to 75 days a year. Currently, most homeowners can rent out their place for 90 days a year.

    So it's just a small little change. However, it does have to — it does sort of speak to this larger battle between the traditional economy and the rising sharing economy. We have seen big legislative fights in cities across the country over Uber, as Uber takes on the taxi industry. Now we have got Airbnb taking on the hotel industry, both of whom have millions of dollars at stake in this.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, as far as we know, first time Airbnb has been on a ballot.

  • REID WILSON:

    As far as we know.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    OK. So, let's look at now some of these races. You have a governor's race, a contested race in Kentucky. You have got interesting state Senate races in Virginia. Let's look at those.

  • REID WILSON:

    So, in 2010 and 2014, one of the sort of overlooked consequences of the Republican wave that swept power in Congress back towards the Republicans was that it swept even more power back to Republicans in state legislatures.

    There are very few Democratic state legislators in the country these days, compared to before the 2010 elections. And in Kentucky, one of the very few Democrats who still governs a Southern state, a usually Republican state, is term-limited. So the two candidates who are running, Attorney General Jack Conway, the Democrat, is probably slightly favored, but only slightly, over the Republican businessman Matt Bevin.

    You might remember Matt Bevin's name. He ran against Mitch McConnell two years ago — last year, rather, in a primary.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Challenged Mitch McConnell in the last — right.

  • REID WILSON:

    Matt Bevin has run a very poor race at the moment, but it's a very heavily Republican state. What really matters to the outcome of this race is what voters are thinking about when they head into the polls. Are they thinking about national issues and President Obama? His approval rating is at 34 percent in Kentucky.

    Or are they thinking about how the outgoing governor, Steve Beshear, the Democrat, has run the state? His approval rating is at 59 percent. Democrats want to focus on statewide issues. Republicans want to focus on the national.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And finally just a word, Reid Wilson, about those Senate races in Virginia, that, right now, both houses in Virginia are controlled by the Republicans.

  • REID WILSON:

    And the Senate is only narrowly controlled by Republicans, just by one seat. There are about four races that we're all closely watching, a couple down near Richmond, a couple up here in the Washington suburbs.

    This is one of those cases where Democrats lost so many legislative seats. They have a chance to win back a chamber tonight. It's — maybe this is a preview of 2016 and how Democrats can do that.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Governor Terry McAuliffe doing a lot of pacing tonight.

  • REID WILSON:

    There you go.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    All right, Reid Wilson giving us a preview of all those races.

    Thank you very much.

  • REID WILSON:

    Thank you.

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