Why State Government Elections Matter
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the AFL-CIO is going to using the lion's share of its political resources in the 2014 midterm to elect Democrats at the state government level rather than in congressional elections. Republicans, without ignoring federal elections, ought to be just as concerned about winning state government elections.
Washington is a mess -- perhaps an incurable mess. Since George H. Bush was elected president twenty years ago, conservatives have found almost nothing encouraging at the federal level. Himalayan federal debt, surreally stupid energy policies, Marx Brothers-like national security policies, deconstruction of the finest health care system in the world, and an endless stream of weary rhetoric connected to a campaign cycle which never stops -- all this means that the best we can hope for in winning federal elections is to stop or slow down leftist mischief.
State government is very different: actual reforms can be implemented -- and, under Republican governments, have been implemented. The new voter ID law in North Carolina is an excellent example. Because Republican Pat McCrory won the gubernatorial race last year and Republicans maintained control of both houses of the North Carolina Legislature, serious new provisions to reduce voter fraud are now state law.
Two years ago, Scott Walker, who was swept into office with Republican majorities in the Wisconsin Legislature, enacted public employee union reforms over the howls and hisses of established leftism. The left tried everything to defeat this -- Democrat legislators fled to Chicago to prevent a quorum; public employee union operatives flooded the capitol; the left tried to defeat Judge Prosser in his retention election; and Democrats tried to recall the governor, the lieutenant governor, and several state senators.
The reforms enacted by Walker and his Republicans worked, and the left faced humiliating defeats which extended even into November 2012. Although Obama carried Wisconsin and Republicans lost the Senate election there, Republicans at the state level did just fine: they actually gained seats in both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature.
What happened in Wisconsin happened in other states in which Republicans held enough power to move their agenda. While Obama carried Ohio, for example, and Democrats won the Senate race, Republicans actually strengthened the hold of the Ohio Legislature. Perhaps most interesting is what is happening in North Carolina right now. Republicans in 2012 -- an "Obama" election year -- captured the governorship and strengthened their control of both houses of the North Carolina Legislature.
North Carolina Republicans are now showing just what Wisconsin Republicans showed two years ago: courage to make big changes and the will to do that very fast. North Carolina has just adopted a voter fraud prevention law which is very easy to defend, and these Republicans are quite properly ignoring the threats and howls of establishment leftism. Two weeks ago, North Carolina Republicans enacted sweeping education reforms which end teacher tenure, provide means-tested voucher programs, and deconstruct some of the education bureaucracy. One week before that, North Carolina Republicans passed the first major overhaul of the state tax system in eighty years.
What has happened in Wisconsin and North Carolina has happened in other Republican-run sates since the 2010 landslide. If Republicans are able to dominate state government elections again in 2014, then American government and politics could truly be transformed, for several reasons:
These reforms are enacted quickly, and the results of the reforms can be seen easily and soon. One reason Scott Walker survived recall was that Wisconsin voters saw his reforms working.
States also provide the chance to really experiment to see which of several paths leads to the best state education system, the optimum growth-generating tax system, and the most effective voter fraud measure. Conservatives across America can show not only one or two ways to reform broken systems, but perhaps dozens of ways.
States that make education better and cheaper, tax and regulatory systems that are rational, and governments that operate efficiently will also attract more and more investment and expertise, which is how our "marketplace of state governments" ought to work.
Many of the reforms hit the heart of leftist political power. Who loses when elections are not stolen? When workers no longer have automatic deduction of union dues -- dues largely used to elect Democrats -- which party suffers? When vouchers end the monopoly of public school bosses, which side loses its taxpayer-funded propagandists?
The battle for state governments in 2014 may not get as much attention as Senate or House races, but it may be the most important battle of all.