Battle For The States
During Presidential election years here in the US, there is a basic tendency to downplay media coverage of what is taking place in other political arenas, such as Congress, the soon-to-be-outgoing Presidential Administration, and especially state and local government happenings. This year has been no different is this regard. Who can resist the non-stop madcap coverage of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and others constantly berating and disrespecting each other along with major segments of the voting population?
Ever since the 2010 midterm elections and the fallout of redistricting made possible by major GOP victories at the state and Congressional levels during a census year, some of what is arguably the worst state legislation in generations has stung residents of many states at once – often negating gains seemingly coming from Supreme Court decisions. At a time when the people were electing and re-electing a President espousing a break from the business as usual of the Bush Administration and promising progressive reforms to advance American society as a whole towards a better future, many states have elected governors and legislatures intentionally bucking that trend and seeking to make sure that such progress never sees the light of day under their watch.
Many expected the turmoil wrought by the advent of such legislation after the 2010 midterms would see some leveling of the playing field to help offset some of the policy failures which occurred as a result of the one-sided legislation. The GOP became so thoroughly dominating in many states that they were able to steamroll the opposition and impose outrageous laws designed to further strengthen their regimes in future elections and maintain control for years to come. Passing laws to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the impoverished, corporate management at the expense of workers, conservative “values” at the expense of human compassion, opposition has been met primarily by attempts (successful more often than not) to stifle dissent and make voting by opposition groups more difficult.
While SCOTUS (Supreme Court of The United States) has sometimes backed the President and his Administration by such decisions as those which maintained the Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, it has also added to the backlash against progressive policies in other key decisions. By opening political campaigns to huge sums of dark money and decimating long-established campaign finance reforms with its Citizens United decision and also enabling states to suppress voting rights by its decision to strip the Voting Rights Act of some of its most important enforcement mechanisms, the political and economic rights of many Americans have taken a definite turn for the worse in many states.
The Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage has resulted in many states refusing to support the trend of reducing discrimination against the LGBT community in other facets of their lives. In the guise of protecting the religious rights of many people opposed to granting members of that community to equal protection under the law, new laws have sprung up in NC, GA, MS and elsewhere allowing legal discrimination and bigotry to flourish within their borders. Opposition has arisen – often applying economic pressure to reverse course. So far, Georgia’s governor was persuaded to veto such legislation in his state in the face of growing threats by various industries to pull out of the state if their discriminatory law went into effect. Similar threats and event cancellations in Mississippi and North Carolina have not yet been so successful.
After the 2010 elections resulted in sweeping GOP wins in states like WI, KS, MI and PA, many ultra-conservative moves were made in the name of fiscal responsibility. Taxes were slashed on the wealthy while cuts were made to public education, higher education and state sponsored programs helping the poor and disadvantaged. Workers rights were attacked with various degrees of success in several states, with union rights further limited and right-to-work (for less) legislation passing in some new states. Dissent has been widespread in many of them, resulting in the recall of Governor Scott Walker and several legislators in Wisconsin.
Many felt that dissatisfaction with the performance of these state governments would lead to a big turnaround in the 2014 elections. That didn’t happen. Scott Walker not only survived the recall, he was re-elected to a second term and even made an abortive (I’m sure he’d love that adjective) presidential run. Sam Brownback and the Kansas legislature, despite the economic and budgetary problems that followed on the enormous tax cuts for the wealthy, remained firmly in conservative GOP hands. They’ve been openly warring with the state’s own Judiciary about the latter’s insistence upon the legislature performing its duties under the state constitution to sufficiently fund education.
One highlight of the 2014 elections, the defeat in Pennsylvania of Governor Tom Corbett by Tom Wolf, was pretty much offset by the retention of control of the state legislature by the same Republican lawmakers who had devastated education funding over the four years Corbett was in office. That legislature refused to budge in a fight with Wolf over taxing natural gas extraction and increasing funding for public education when they were unable to override his veto of the state budget. The battle was put on hold after a six-month stalemate which forced many school districts to borrow money to stay open, costing millions that will end up being paid in interest on those loans, while simultaneously resulting in a multibillion dollar state deficit (due to the refusal to adequately tax the natural gas corporations for the detrimental effects of their fracking).
Similar battles have ensued in state after state on issues dealing with everything from women’s reproductive rights, Planned Parenthood, voter ID legislation, state legislative and Congressional redistricting, Medicaid expansion, workers’ rights and citizens’ democratic political rights. The full effect of the voter suppression initiatives will likely not be felt until this fall’s elections. The broader effect of this reactionary legislative barrage is meant to benefit the already privileged classes and further harm the health and welfare of the underprivileged, underserved and underrepresented among us. This means an acceleration in the degree of overall societal economic and political inequality – furthering the lack of equal opportunity which so many of us find totally unacceptable unacceptable.
By also seeking to prevent cities and other politically progressive enclaves to better meet the needs and aspirations of their residents at their own expense when the state refuses to do so (by raising local minimum wages, banning or restricting fracking or passing ordinances protecting the rights of members not protected by state laws – to name a few), they are depriving many of their own citizens of democracy itself. Perhaps the worst example of this denial of democratic due process is the authoritarian Michigan Emergency Manager law that has resulted in several major cities being politically taken over by the state and also directly caused the leaded water disaster that has prominently plagued the city of Flint, poisoning so many of its people.
The fact that – despite the many demonstrable failures of the policies perpetrated on so many Americans by their elected officials – they keep being returned to office to double down on their disasters. The America being experienced by those living in these “red” states is becoming ever more divergent from that being experienced by their compatriots living in states with more compassionate administrations. Hopefully, some progress may be made in reversing this trend in November. We definitely need to build a grassroots movement to insure that the 2020 elections don’t further entrench the undemocratic, inhumane and inegalitarian trends begun with such force in the wake of 2010. Every election of every level of government counts. We must fight the forces seeking to take our voices and political power and prevent them from doing so. Fighting by casting our ballots and insuring that others willing to do likewise are not prevented from doing so is essential to improving our lot in the years to come and preventing the trend towards oligarchy from progressing any further.
We don’t only need to take the White House. We need to take Congress and the State and Local governments as well.
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