The GOP Must Look to the States to Promote Their Agenda

With the re-election of President Obama and the failure of the GOP to win a majority in the U.S. Senate there is a lot of talk about how difficult it will be to stop Obama’s big government agenda.  The problem with that talk is that it does not take into account that we still have divided government at the federal level.  Neither side’s agenda is likely to get very far at that level.  As Michael Barone points out in his latest column for, the real action when it comes to pushing forward an agenda is in the states.  It is not for nothing that the states have been referred to as “the laboratories of democracy.”  Unlike government at the federal level, there is not at much divided government at the state level.  This should allow Republicans to push forward there own agenda to make a clear contrast with the agenda being pursued by the Democrats.

Here is how Barone describes the reality of gridlock at the federal level:

In Washington, Americans have two-party government, with a Democratic president and Senate and a Republican House. We had it before November’s election and will have it again for the next two years.

Looking back from 2014, we will have had two-party government for most of the preceding two decades, for six years of Bill Clinton’s presidency, three and a half years of George W. Bush’s and four years of Barack Obama’s.

The reality at the state level looks quite different:

But in most of the 50 states, American voters seem to have opted for something very much like one-party government.

Starting next month, Americans in 25 states will have Republican governors and Republicans in control of both houses of the state legislatures. They aren’t all small states, either. They include about 53 percent of the nation’s population.

At the same time, Americans in 15 states will have Democratic governors and Democrats in control of both houses of the state legislatures. They include about 37 percent of the nation’s population.

That leaves only 10 percent in states in which neither party is in control.

Barone sees the Republican advantage at the state level to be part of a trend that started in 2009 and continued in 2010.  The states are not only free on gridlock for the most part, but the party in charge of most states has a decisive advantage:

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Republicans will have more than 60 percent of the members of both legislative houses in 17 states (Nebraska has a single nonpartisan legislature). And in nine more states, they’ll have 60 percent of the members of one house plus a majority in the other and the governorship.

Democrats will have 60 percent plus of both houses in 11 states, and in two more they will have 60 percent in one house, a majority in the other plus the governorship.

This is true even in presidential target states. The Ohio Senate will be 23-10 Republican, the Florida House 74-46 Republican.

Here is what Barone sees coming as a result of the lack of gridlock at the state level:

For the national public, one-party Democratic and one-party Republican states provide a look at how each party governs — and the results.

In California, voters just gave Democrats two-thirds majorities in both houses and a tax increase, as well. We’ll see if their policies help California reduce its dismally high unemployment and resolve its enormous pension underfunding.

In Illinois, Democrats won again, despite increasing the state income tax from 3 to 5 percent in 2011, after which the state’s unemployment rate went up, while declining in neighboring states. Democrat Michael Madigan has been speaker of the Illinois House for 28 of the last 30 years.

Many Republican governors and legislatures have gone in another direction, holding down spending increases and seeking to cut taxes or hold rates even, rather than raise them.

Texas’ low taxes (no income tax) and light regulation have been followed by some of the most robust job creation in the nation. Texas’ population grew so rapidly in the last decade that it gained 4 U.S. House seats from the 2010 Census.

No-income-tax Florida gained two seats, and no other state gained more than one. California, for the first time in its history, gained none.

States are laboratories of democracy, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote. Citizens of every state can monitor their experiments and judge which set of one-party states is getting better results.

The task going forward for conservatives is to ensure that the following dynamic continues: “Many Republican governors and legislatures have gone in another direction, holding down spending increases and seeking to cut taxes or hold rates even, rather than raise them.”  For those who think that the Tea Party movement in American is dead, guess again.  The action real action is focused on the state level.  If these who champion individual liberty and limited government can continue winning the battle at the state and local they will succeed in creating a strong bench and more victories at the national level will come.