Archive for Monday, November 19, 2012

Powerful supermajorities elected to statehouses could have broad consequences

November 19, 2012


— There's a new superpower growing in the Great Plains and the South, where bulging Republican majorities in state capitols could dramatically cut taxes and change public education with barely a whimper of resistance from Democrats.

Contrast that with California, where voters have given Democrats a new dominance that could allow them to raise taxes and embrace same-sex marriage without regard to Republican objections.

If you thought the presidential election revealed the nation's political rifts, consider the outcomes in state legislatures. The vote also created a broader tier of powerful one-party governments that can act with no need for compromise. Half of state legislatures now have veto-proof majorities, up from 13 only four years ago, according to figures compiled for The Associated Press by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

All but three states — Iowa, Kentucky and New Hampshire — have one-party control of their legislatures, the highest mark since 1928.

The result could lead to stark differences in how people live and work.

"Usually, a partisan tide helps the same party across the country, but what we saw in this past election was the opposite of that — some states getting bluer and some states getting redder," said Thad Kousser, an associate political science professor at the University of California-San Diego who focuses on state politics. As a result, "we'll see increasing policy divergence across the states."

Democrats in California gained their first supermajorities since 1883 in both the Assembly and Senate. Republicans captured total control of the North Carolina Capitol for the first time in more than a century. The GOP set a 147-year high mark in the Tennessee statehouse and won two-thirds majorities in the Missouri Legislature for the first time since the Civil War.

Republicans also gained or expanded supermajorities in places such as Indiana, Oklahoma and — if one independent caucuses with the GOP — Georgia. Democrats gained a supermajority in Illinois and built upon their dominance in places such as Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

If the parties make full use of their enlarged majorities, residents of similar-sized cities in different parts of the country could soon experience a virtual continental divide in their way of life.

In one state, businesses could pay little to no taxes, the result of policies intended to spur hiring. Public schools might function at a basics-only level, with parents free to use public money to send their children to private schools. Only the poorest of the poor adults could expect medical care from the government.

In another state, residents would pay higher taxes, and the government would inject billions of dollars into public education with the goal of creating a highly skilled workforce to attract businesses. A social safety net would exist for the poor, including working adults not even considered to be in poverty.

States already have different approaches to taxes, the economy and care for the poor, but they have been tempered by compromise. Now the middle ground may begin to disappear in favor of stark extremes.

Supermajorities can allow lawmakers to override governors' vetoes, change tax rates, put constitutional amendments on the ballot, rewrite legislative rules and establish a quorum for business — all without any participation by the opposing party.

In Indiana, the new Republican supermajority can now pass bills even if House Democrats repeat the walkouts they've held the past two years to protest the consideration of so-called right-to-work laws limiting union powers. In Oklahoma, Republicans are expected to use their huge majorities to move to slash state income taxes after efforts last year fell short.

Indiana Democrats acknowledge there is little they can do.

"It's deeply troubling that my party has fallen in this position and left our state, in my view, so ill-represented," said Democratic Rep. Ed DeLaney of Indianapolis. "It's a huge challenge."

Republican supermajorities in both North Carolina chambers are likely to push for income tax cuts and sweeping education changes, including broader merit pay for public school teachers and expanded tax credits for parents who send their children to private schools. Also on the agenda: a photo identification requirement for voting that was vetoed in 2011 by Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue.

Deflated Democrats, who haven't been so shut out of control in more than a century, hope new Republican Gov. Pat McCrory will at least consider their concerns.

"We'll go forward. We have no choice," said minority whip Rep. Deborah Ross.

In Missouri, House Speaker Tim Jones wants to advance an agenda that includes tax cuts, business incentives and education reform. The new GOP supermajority could trump any objections by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who vetoed some previous business-backed bills.

"The governor will need to understand the importance of true, actual negotiation during the legislative process," Jones said.

Yet a supermajority is not a guarantee of success. With larger numbers can come more individual agendas and internal tensions.

"A very large majority ends up becoming factionalized," said Charles S. Bullock III, a longtime political science professor at the University of Georgia who teaches legislative politics. There are "people who are vying with each other, looking down the road to the next election."

Kansas is a good example of that. Republicans there gained a supermajority in both chambers in the 2010 elections but remained divided in conservative and moderate camps. They took their battle to the ballot box this year and conservatives prevailed — giving them a likely hold on 27 of 40 Kansas Senate seats and as many as 75 of 125 House seats.

After enacting massive tax cuts in 2012, some Kansas conservatives now are looking forward to trimming government and possibly pursuing more tax cuts.

"What we know from history is we can expect some overreaching of lawmakers using their newfound political might to shove things down the throat of the minority — to pass laws that are more extreme than they would have passed in the old days," Kousser said.

In California, Democrats are looking forward to having things their way. Republican Assemblyman Jim Nielsen predicts an "unprecedented spending and taxing binge" as the new Democratic supermajority attempts to reduce some of the state's recent deep budget cuts.

California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has outlined an agenda that includes changing the tax code and ballot initiative process and perhaps asking voters to legalize same-sex marriage.

"We will exercise this new power with strength, but also with humility and with reason," Steinberg said.

Associated Press writers John Hanna in Topeka, Kan.; Tom LoBianco in Indianapolis; Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City; Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh, N.C.; and Don Thompson in Sacramento, Calif., contributed to this report.


Cant_have_it_both_ways 5 years, 4 months ago

This is a good thing. Maybe those who have zero intent of working can move to a more moocher friendly state like California.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 4 months ago

Interestingly, California did indeed elect supermajorities to go along with their Democratic Governor, Lt. Gov., both Senators, Nancy Pelosi, etc. I fully expect them to either fix all their problems in short order or blame George Bush. Whatever.

chootspa 5 years, 4 months ago

Or else the red states will cause enough climate change related flooding to move them all to Nevada.

sourpuss 5 years, 4 months ago

Actually, the traditionally Red states draw the most public assistance. "Moocher" states are Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi... These are states with high unemployment, high diabetes, poor public education, high teen birth rates.

hedshrinker 5 years, 4 months ago

expect that the GOP push for tax breaks mostly benefitting the wealthy and corporations and govt that fits in a bathtub while bankrupting public education and support for infrastructure and social services for those elderly/ill/disabled/children will create a whole new tier of states with hideous quality of life like the ones you cite (alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi). Back to the 19th century...can't believe this is happening. But watching The Dustbowl after reading the Worst Hard Time by Tim Egan makes me realize how people who should know better will cut off their nose to spite their face for short term profits and greed with no thought to the long term consequences for themselves, much less the planet.

Larry Sturm 5 years, 4 months ago

This superpower in state goverment is coruption.

James Nelson 5 years, 4 months ago

I hope that efforts are already underway to slam Kansas state government with legal action in federal court when they pass their voucher program which is sure to come this next year. What is it about the separation of church and state that republicans do not understand? Of course, we might have to wait until Obama appoints one or two new members to the Supreme Court as it will head there for sure.

FlintHawk 5 years, 4 months ago

"In one state, businesses could pay little to no taxes, the result of policies intended to spur hiring. Public schools might function at a basics-only level, with parents free to use public money to send their children to private schools. Only the poorest of the poor adults could expect medical care from the government."

Sound familiar? So sad that the author's "hypothetical" example isn't hypothetical. How it must warm the cockles of the right-wingers' miniscule hearts to read about the new world order in which part of the U.S. are/will be living.

This is why I didn't (and don't) understand why the Kansas right was so depressed after the election: It doesn't make any difference who's in Washington if you already live in Brownbackistan.

verity 5 years, 4 months ago

From Mike Pompeo:

"Thank you for contacting me regarding your support for extending the wind Production Tax Credit (PTC). I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts with me. In order to make sound decisions, it is important for me to hear from Kansans.

The wind PTC became law in 1992, with the goal of creating a viable market for wind energy. Over the last 20 years we have seen that goal become a reality, with Kansas serving as a leader in wind energy. However, with a skyrocketing $16 trillion debt and an industry that is more than capable of standing on its own two feet, government can no longer subsidize the wind energy industry.

Taxpayer-funded subsidies are a problem across the energy sector, not just wind. We have seen subsidies continue for ethanol, solar, and hydrogen for years. Amazingly, despite our national debt, we still hear calls for massive subsidies for natural gas vehicles. The Solyndra scandal, in which the Obama Administration squandered $535 million on a high-risk solar panel company, is a recent example of government wasting taxpayer dollars in an arena it should never have entered in the first place. Kansas does not need government subsidies to remain successful. The growth we have seen in the past decade in making Kansas a leader in energy production has come from hard work and ingenuity, not government intrusion in private markets. I am confident, through less regulation and a fairer, simpler tax code, that Kansas' wind industry will continue to thrive long after the wind PTC expires. "

My reply to Pompeo: "You did not mention the subsidies which oil companies receive. Are you also against those subsidies, and, if not, why?"

I have not received an answer from Mr Pompeo.

I have another question: Is the Solyndra scandal all they have? If so, it ain't much when weighed against what oil companies have done.

verity 5 years, 4 months ago

I'm not always a fan of Ken Burns---personally I think he can be a bit redundant and could use a bit more judicious editing---but that aside, his latest about the dust bowl should be a cautionary tale to all of us. I would say it should be required watching for all, but that would get me called a dirty liberal trying to take away human rights.

The farmers who indiscriminately plowed up the prairie can be forgiven because they had no idea of the consequences of their actions. We do know what can happen if we continue the way we are going. Those who come after us will suffer for our excesses.

The Ogallala Aquifer will run out, possibly within 20 years. Then what? Our natural, unrenewable resources will run out sooner or later and meanwhile we are polluting our home---the only one we're going to have in the foreseeable future. Should we not err on the side of caution? That would be the conservative stance I would think.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.