States are getting more partisan, and more cooperative
This space has often compared what is going on in Washington to what is happening at the state level. Most of the policy served out of Washington would have been improved if the Congress ever looked around to see how basic governmental functions have been enhanced by both the competition and the collaboration among the nation’s states.
These days, the partisan divide has magnetized the news and apparently, unlike in physics, the polarity repels in all directions and doesn’t attract at all. There are a few fights like that in the state capitols as well, notably the Indiana and Michigan bids for workers’ rights enabling them to sell their labor under conditions most appealing to them by having been given the right to work without belonging to a union.
Michigan unemployment is currently 9.1% and it was the only state to lose population between 2000 and 2010. Only one of the last 19 auto manufacturing plants in America was built in this state renowned for its natural beauty and work force. Most of them went to right-to-work states.
Sure, there are state capitols where a core constituency has been rousted by a partisan control vested in the other party. This gets a lot of press. But in the main, I am struck with how collaborative the reds and blues are for 90% of the output of a state legislature. I have as recently as yesterday listened to a state legislative body wind up its affairs for the session by lauding each other’s talents and support for the good of the order.
Fact is, though the Republicans and our economic outlook have both lost ground in the nation’s capitol, they have made gains in the states, which is largely unreported. Not just in partisan gains but in awards by business groups for economic growth. This year, Ohio, Tennessee, South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas and Virginia all won high rankings and awards from one major site selection publication. In two elections, Republicans have gone from 47% of the state senators to 54%, and from 44% of the lower house members in the state legislatures to 52%.
The jaw-dropping Republican gains in the South have been particularly acute. Increases in seats won in the last two elections put the GOP in control of more than 60% of the state legislative seats in Dixie for the 2013 legislative sessions. Through backlash against Washington policy and redistricting, Republicans now hold more state legislative seats in the West and Midwest as well. The Democrats gained seats in both houses of the legislature in only three states – Illinois, California and New Jersey, which elected a Republican governor who is apparently widely considered to be doing a decent job of managing that state.
Ohio has a Republican governor and Legislature. Indiana has a Republican governor and a supermajority in both houses of the General Assembly. Michigan has a Republican governor and Legislature. When the dust finally settled in Wisconsin, the Senate had returned to the GOP column.
These states are forging a new day in state government, and the chances of meeting with widespread citizen approval when new policies have their chance to work are good. Corporations are not the only place nowadays where the managers are studying Six Sigma and enhancing transparency. The ships of state are getting the leaks patched.
And for the most part, even though states are bluer or redder than they have ever been, the states are moving forward on a bipartisan basis. Campaigns are largely winner-take-all propositions. Governing doesn’t work as well that way.