When the Right Is Wrong
The midterm elections in 2010 brought a tide of conservative Republican victories at the state and local level that gave them strong majorities in the US House of Representatives, as well as many state legislatures and governorships. States affected include those that have traditionally been conservative red states, as well as some which have been more moderate or liberal blue states, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Making matters worse, the sweeping victories came in a US Census year, meaning the elected legislatures then became responsible for drawing new district maps for both US House and state legislative districts for the next ten years.
Some of these legislatures began quickly trying to enact extreme right wing laws limiting workers rights, voting rights and abortion rights among others, while simultaneously redrawing district boundaries to help ensure that they would be more easily capable of maintaining power within their states for years to come. The redistricting came at the cost of underrepresenting many member of minority groups and other disadvantaged groups. The gerrymandering was designed to maintain Republican control of both the state legislatures and the US House of Representatives for as long as possible.
Some of the proposed laws went too far and were deemed unconstitutional by state or federal courts. Some voter ID laws in southern states falling under the protection of the Voting Rights Act were turned down by the Department of Justice as being discriminatory under that statute, so they were unable to be used to suppress the vote in the 2012 election. Other states such as PA, passed the laws but they were delayed in implementation by state courts because of the short timeframe for implementation before the election. Laws severely curtailing union and worker rights in states like WI, MI, IN and OH have all been enacted, with varying degrees of success. Democrat minorities in these state legislatures were often steamrolled by the numerical superiority of the majority Republicans. Many public demonstrations of dissent and some recall elections were held as a result, with mixed results.
Republican control of the US House made that body totally unwilling to negotiate on any level with Democrats or the Obama Administration. The Democratic control of the Senate meant that totally unacceptable legislation passed by the House, such as their proposed budget decimating Medicare and repeated attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, died well-deserved deaths without requiring a Presidential veto. However, Senate obstruction, in the form primarily of using the filibuster to prevent votes on everything from Presidential nominations to federal courts and regulatory bodies. The obstruction that was present from 2011 on continues basically unabated despite the fact that it did not succeed in its main avowed purpose – defeat of President Obama in 2012. Republicans remain adamant in espousing policies harmful to the most vulnerable among us and helpful mainly to the privileged and wealthy few.
The 2012 elections brought some gains for the Democrats in the US Senate and House, as well as re-election of the President, but redistricting helped insure that the GOP maintained control of the House, as well as free use of the filibuster in the Senate, because the Senate Democrats maintained the 60 vote rule to end filibusters. The state legislatures ended up being even worse, with the GOP gaining control of both the legislature and the governorship for the first time in decades in North Carolina. Draconian agendas continue in most of the states under Republican control. It is important to note that no “anti-voter fraud” voter ID laws or other laws denying people the right to vote have been proposed in states not dominated by GOP legislatures and Governors. Likewise, laws encouraging more voting and such things as marriage equality or expanded access to affordable health care never seem to originate in GOP dominated states.
Some recent Supreme Court decisions have emboldened some of the states to double down on unpopular and discriminatory legislation that reverses precious progressive legislation which no longer has the backing of the courts, the main one being voter rights. It took only a couple of hours after the Supreme Court announced its decision declaring part of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional for Texas and South Carolina to announce their intention to reinstitute the voter ID laws declared null and void by the Justice Department in 2012. More states are sure to follow suit. The whole purpose of laws such as these was stated well by a prominent Republican legislator from Pennsylvania in 2012 when he boasted that the state’s voter ID law would ensure Republican victory in the upcoming Presidential election (which did not happen, for the reason discussed above).
Perhaps the greatest area of GOP heavy-handed legislation has been in the area of women’s reproductive health and abortion rights. More bills have been introduced seeking to limit funding and restrict the ability of women to obtain reproductive health care services, including but not limited to abortions, than in any other period of history since Roe v, Wade. Texas Governor Rick Perry has gone to the unprecedented lengths of calling two separate special legislative sessions to try to ram such a bill through, despite massive popular disapproval. Thus the party bewailing government intrusion on our health care inserts itself firmly in the middle of dictating available health care options Many of the restrictive or rights-denying laws being passed by these legislatures face massive popular disapproval, but the people putting them forth and passing them do not seem to care. Most seem intent on forcing their will on the populace because they have the power to do so and face few negative consequences at the ballot box, at least not yet.
Rather than attempting to change political course and regain somewhat of a modicum of support among groups such as women, Hispanics, African-Americans, blue collar workers. poor and middle class people, the GOP controlling legislatures at the state and national levels seem content to use the power they now have to force the rest of us to play by their rules. They seek to maintain their power, not by gaining a majority of popular support, but by silencing those who disagree with their agenda. They seem not to fear public opinion in the least. Congress currently has the lowest public opinion rating of all time, largely due to the fact that nothing seems to be getting done to fix the problems that plague this nation. Due to their insistent obstruction of any constructive ideas emanating within their hallowed halls, no legislation seems to be forthcoming to improve the lives of the vast majority of the American people. Instead, time is spent passing legislation that will never become law and that proposes draconian cuts that will harm the most vulnerable among us while further enriching the wealthy.
By living on the edge when it comes to passing needed legislation, whether it be budget resolutions, raising the debt ceiling, approving judicial nominees or regulatory board members for such groups as the CFPB and NLRB, they are trying to bring about the destruction of legislation they do not like by preventing those who are supposed to execute it from even taking office so they can enforce the law. Dodd-Frank financial regulations are a case in point. The states controlled by the GOP are trying to hurt the implementation of health care reform by, among other things, refusing to set up exchanges or expand Medicaid eligibility for the uninsured poor. Resistance to immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship seems aimed primarily at denying the vote to a large group of people they see as certain voters for the Democrats.
Keeping the status quo by restricting the electorate to those who already agree with them, rather than changing to meet the new demands of changing demographics, seems to be their preferred option. Why they seek to alienate more than half the population in order to maintain their power is a question I cannot answer. Trying to use voter ID laws and such to silence all these groups seems a fool’s errand. It didn’t work in 2012 and seems often to infuriate the voters they are trying to suppress so that they vote in even higher numbers than before.
Many of the legislators, and perhaps more importantly, governors participating in this race back to a pre-Civil War society and electorate have to face re-election in 2014. Despite all the gerrymandering and attempted voter suppression, they were unable to gain many of their objectives in 2012. No doubt, with the help of the Supreme Court in the Citizens United and Voting Rights Act cases, renewed attempts to maintain or increase control of the moneyed and conservative, repressive rightwing agenda will be laying additional obstacles in the path of those striving to obtain a just government of, by and for all of us. It won’t be easy to do, but we can stop the insane conduct of our most destructive and repressive elected and appointed government officials at the ballot box. We must never allow ourselves to be controlled by a group wishing to promote such hateful, misogynistic, racist, homophobic and undemocratic principles. We must assert our rights and make sure our government is both responsible and responsive to all of us. It’s time to bring the GOP kicking and screaming into the 21st century or make the party fade away before we let them continue to govern as badly as they have been of late.
Selected Further Readings: