Making State Governments Matter
Although some conservatives are disappointed that an outspoken governor like Chris Christie is not going to be running for president, he has more important work to do in New Jersey. The same is true of Mitch Daniels in Indiana. What these men are showing is that our myopic obsession with Washington may mask where the real action is in revolutionary reform: state government. This is particularly true of robust conservative change.
First of all, Republicans, and especially conservative Republicans, actually have a big hammer in state governments today. As this NCLS map shows, Republicans made huge gains in state legislatures, gaining 21 chambers and picking up more state legislative seats than in the 1994 landslide. Moreover, the Democrat losses in gubernatorial elections in 2010 reduced the number of states in which Democrats run state government (control the legislature and the governor) to only eleven, while Republicans run state government in twenty states.
Even this understates the scope of Republican muscle in state governments. Secondary statewide elective offices like lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and state treasurer can help or hinder conservative reforms. Reflexive support for Democrats since FDR meant that a big chunk of secondary statewide offices were won by Democrats. The 2010 election changed all that. In Wisconsin, for example, Scott Walker was not the only Republican to win statewide office. Van Hollen was elected attorney general, and Schuller was elected state treasurer. Only one Democrat, LaFollette, squeaked by in the secretary of state race.
Second, the intransigence of the left has made uncompromising action inevitable. If public employee unions in Wisconsin had simply agreed to "give back" part of the negotiated benefits package, doubtless many Republicans would have urged compromise. But leaving the state to avoid a quorum, storming the capitol, fighting a Supreme Court election to get a hack on the court, and then pushing recall elections against Republican state senators has made it easy for conservatives to prevail in Republican caucuses.
Third, state governments have vast residual powers, even given the grotesquely distorted interpretation of federal rights invented by the left and anointed by the federal bench. As I have noted before, state legislatures can simply pick the state's presidential electors, returning that power back to state government. Elections themselves are almost entirely in the province of state government. Such elementary actions as restoring the public rather than the secret ballot could end the pathogen of voter fraud.
States also can limit the power of organized labor, and the results of the 2010 elections give Republicans in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania to enact Right to Work laws. This would make those states more economically competitive and also reduce the power of labor unions, whose vast campaign largess is used to defeat Republicans into insignificance.
The entire educational system can be transformed, state by state, by courageous Republicans. The state tax code can be rewritten so that it is simple and modest and non-covetous. Lawsuits wreak havoc among whole classes of industry, but tort law is almost entirely state law. Nothing prevents bold Republicans from taking the honey out of John Edwards-like lawsuits. Environmental laws, zoning laws, and a whole raft of other laws and regulations reside in the domain of state, not federal, government.
Fourth, states can act fast. Most state legislators have a two-year term, and even state senators have a four-year term (or less). So when Republicans win landslides, the whole balance of power can shift in one election cycle. The filibuster is essentially unknown in state governments. The party which controls the upper chamber can bring matters to a vote without a supermajority. A determined majority, like Republicans in Wisconsin, can fairly quickly enact dramatic reforms.
The federal government -- a necessary evil -- has become the remote, insulated overlord of America. But this is not what our Founding Fathers intended. Article I grants remarkably few powers to Congress. The Executive Branch, for the first hundred years of our nation, had only a handful of cabinet offices. Federal courts did not have jurisdiction even over federal questions until 1875, which meant that federal questions were tried in state courts in almost all cases.
Peacefully, almost silently, Republicans can use their power in state governments to enact a real revolution. The items of the agenda are fairly straightforward: end the incentive for frivolous lawsuits, create parental choice and power in education, remove the chokehold of unions on government, reduce and streamline tax codes, take all reasonable steps to reduce voter fraud, revisit every environmental mandate which affects commerce, eschew all federal funds which tie states to Washington, and challenge leftist social orthodoxy in areas like abortion.
The revolution is coming, indeed. If Republicans in state government hold fast to their principles, it may almost be upon us.