The Tipping Point
About thirty years ago, the Republican right decided to take over the states. In a state version of the story that is now familiar nationally, corporations and the cultural right made peace in order to wage this holy war, which was understood as a natural "cut the tree and catch the fruit" complement to national devolution. They invested heavily in GOP state organization, made more explicit and operational a variety of ties between national corporate interests and state parties, and built a slew of supporting institutions to funnel money to emerging state Republican leaders and spoonfeed them reactionary policy suggestions to promote.
They have substantially succeeded. In the 1970s, when this determined effort began, Democrats were in nearly full command of state government. Along with thirty-two governors, they held almost 70 percent of all state legislative seats and controlled thirty-seven legislatures in 1974.
Thirty years later, the results are in. Republicans now have more governors (R28-D22), more legislative chambers (R53-D44), more controlled legislatures (R21-D17) and more partisan legislative seats (R3,684-D3,626). All bets are for this advantage to grow in coming years, as the South turns steadily more Republican and the national GOP continues to target vulnerable Democratic governors (next up are those in Missouri, Washington and West Virginia).
What Republicans are doing with these small majorities is broadly familiar. Along with the redistricting scams already mentioned, they are constitutionalizing restrictions on state spending, cutting social services of all kinds, acting hostile to labor, privatizing an ever wider range of state functions, pushing punitive criminal justice, rolling back privacy rights to the benefit of banks and insurance companies, avoiding the health insurance crisis, limiting medical and product liability, freezing state minimum wages, limiting consumer protections, cutting funding to public schools, dolloping out ever more expansive tax breaks to business and playing the red meat game (gay marriage, concealed weapons, etc.). No surprises here. And so, if Republican leadership continues to gain in the states, we can expect more of the same. States will become more perfect pictures of inequality, market governance and business cronyism. We'll all look a little more like Texas, and a little less like the America we remember, or hope someday to live in. This is the threat in the states. It is real, and growing.
But now let's complicate this picture.