Thursday, June 13, 2013

Impact of State Legislatures


     The impact of the 2012 election is greater than some believe.  It holds a greater policy and legislative impact which is worth pointing out.  There were several state legislatures that were shaken up after the election and while most Americans were concerned with the national election results and implications, the local shakeup may have a greater, more direct effect on American’s lives. 
     According to the Huffington Post, Democrats gained control of eight chambers in state legislatures in 2012 while Republicans gained back only three.  Republican State Leadership Committee spokesman Adam Temple notes that the small margin of chambers gained by Republicans can be credited to more seats to defend after the 2010 midterm elections.  Temple states these results do not demonstrate a referendum on Republicans, but rather due to there being a presidential election, voter turnout is greater which benefits Democrats.  If higher voter turnout benefits Democrats, couldn’t this be construed as a referendum on Republicans? 
     The USA Today reports ten states located in the Deep South have changed from total Democratic control to Republican control and now the Northeast is almost exclusively Democratic.  This reaffirms a divide within the nation.
     The current breakdown of state legislatures is as follows: 19 states with Democrats in control, 26 states with Republicans in control, and four states with split houses (Nebraska has a unicameral non-partisan legislature).  When examining the patterns and trends of the 2012 election, at quick glance, it seems the overwhelming majority of the country held a referendum on Republicans and sided with Democrats on key issues. The numbers are astonishing when one examines how each Presidential candidate did with minority groups.  Mitt Romney and other Republican congressional candidates did very poorly with women, African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans.  After the midterm elections, where the Tea Party rose to prominence and unseated many incumbents, Democrats won back eight seats in the House and two in the Senate.
     The stark revelation of the state legislature breakdown does not support the common election results trend with which most Americans associate when looking back on the election.  Many Republican strategists, when berated by Democrats about the 2012 election, sight this very fact: Republicans still have control of several state legislatures and executives.  This is a major issue because these state legislatures are passing laws which affect the lives of their citizens. 
     The USA Today also notes that the legislatures demonstrated the diversity of the districts in states but more recently, redistricting or gerrymandering has greatly affected these elections and contributed to incumbent parties maintaining partisan advantages.  Robert Reich, economist and former Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton, notes how the divide and deadlock in Washington has allowed state legislatures to pass abrasive and aggressive legislation.  In his column, Reich says that these state legislatures are not nearly as gridlocked as Washington and it is much easier to pass legislation.  He also writes, “Last November’s elections resulted in one-party control of both the legislatures and governor’s offices in all but 13 states—the most single-party dominance in decades.” 
     The implication of these results is that many states do not have the partisan divides which face our national legislature.  This is quite an anomaly to me when related to the way the nation voted in national elections.  When examining the divide in Washington and recent poll numbers stating the 112th congress was the least productive congress in history, Americans state they are dissatisfied with congress but are happy with their congressman. 
     I have two theories when trying relate this logic to state legislatures.  The first is identical to the congressman notion–conservative states and conservative districts in those states will tend to vote conservative therefore maintaining their party’s control in the legislature.  The second is state elections do not get the publicity or attention associated with national elections.  Many Americans overlook these state elections for representatives and many state representatives go unopposed in their respective races.  Name recognition is one of the major (if not the major) contributing factors to a candidate's election.  Campaigns of state legislators are not always as large as they are for national seats and many campaigns do not utilize key techniques such as canvassing, phone banking, or GOTV (get out the vote) to raise public awareness of their candidate.  Voter turnout is far less for these elections, especially in off-years, than in presidential elections. 
     State elections are just as important (if not more so) than national elections.  Many of the key issues facing our nation currently are being decided in the states.  Wisconsin is in the middle of passing laws to defund Planned Parenthood.  Virginia made national headlines last year with their invasive vaginal ultrasound bill which was signed into law.  Other states are trying to pass laws governing abortion so restrictive that few women's health clinics can possibly meet the standards thereby virtually banning abortion by default statewide.  Some states such as New York have passed the most restrictive legislation regarding guns in history while the federal government is still deadlocked on simple universal background checks.  Medicaid expansion is another huge issue the states (mostly executive offices) are faced with today. 
     I believe many are starting to see a pattern and are trying to bring these issues to the forefront of debate.  Another anomaly associated with the 2012 presidential election is how well Obama did in red states.  Many attribute his success, and the success of others in the Democratic Party, to grassroots campaign efforts.  GOTV is huge and has made a substantial impact for election results.  By utilizing GOTV, Democrats have had a plethora of volunteers on election day to phone bank and drive disabled and elderly voters to the polls.  It has proved, so far, to be quite effective in increasing voter turnout which benefits Democrats.  These grassroots efforts have allowed Democrats to gain ground in red states where they had trouble in the past. 
     It is still difficult to say if Democrats are gaining back ground they lost in 2010.  In congress, they still need to make up 17 seats in the House to regain majority.  At the state level, the 2012 numbers demonstrate strong continued support for incumbent partisan advantage.  Despite the trend in the national election, Republicans should not hang their heads in shame.  Even though Democrats gained eight seats in the House, Republicans still hold on to the majority, maintaining the status quo in Washington.  With the state legislatures, Republicans are finding it much easier to pass their legislative agendas and hold a national advantage over Democrats.  State legislatures have proved to exert a consequential impact in the passage of partisan agendas.  Republicans should not discredit their victories here and should continue to do everything possible to maintain these seats in the coming elections.  

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