If one piece of bad news was slightly under-appreciated in November, it was this: in addition to seizing the House, the Republican Party won total control of twenty-one state governments, including the governor’s office as well as both sides of the statehouse. But now the faint glimmer of a silver lining appears. Empowered to put the philosophy that had long been gestating in right-wing think tanks into practice in these “trifecta” states, the armies unleashed by antigovernment guru Grover Norquist are either marching off a cliff—or into a valley filled with the massing forces of popular resistance.
In solid–red states like Texas, the former scenario is emerging. Governor Rick Perry and his Tea Party pals have pushed for the deepest cuts in the nation—$23 billion, or one-fourth of current spending levels—while carrying on their tax-shedding frenzy, paying special attention to the need for tax relief among luxury yacht owners (yes, luxury yacht owners). With as many as half of Texas’ nursing homes and hundreds of schools in danger of closing, the much-touted “Texas miracle” is turning out to be a curse, as Bob Moser details in "Texas’ Wild Tea Party," part of this issue’s special section on the states.
In Florida, GOP Governor Rick Scott is conducting a similar experiment, having decided that the best path to solvency for the state, which faces a $3.6 billion deficit, is trimming taxes and reducing the burden on employers imposed by unemployment insurance. Scott has pen in hand to sign a drastic reduction in unemployment benefits, which already rank forty-sixth in the nation in a state with 11.1 percent unemployment, the third-highest in the country. Through such moves, in three short months he has managed to raise his disapproval rating from 22 to 48 percent.
Then there is the Scott Walker story. The Wisconsin governor didn’t appear braced for much pushback when he moved swiftly to gut collective bargaining rights and public services in his first months in office. He is still learning how careless that was. The protests that flooded the state Capitol have morphed into a sophisticated operation targeting key GOP legislators in recall campaigns. Walker’s antiunion measure has been stalled. The Wisconsin experience is distinctive, but it has parallels in other states. In Ohio, for example, as Amy Hanauer reports in "Ohio: A New Kind of Battleground," Governor John Kasich forced a rollback of collective bargaining rights, along with massive education cuts ($2.1 billion), the selling off of public assets and more. In response, a lively coalition of private and public workers and Ohioans who rely on local and state government is mounting protests as well as a ballot initiative campaign to restore some of the lost rights and services, and to focus attention on the real issue: the jobs crisis.
Thanks to spirited efforts like these, as well as his own feisty campaigning, Ohio’s Senator Sherrod Brown has reaped the benefits of what John Nichols calls “a dream scenario for progressives. Republicans push too hard; movements push back and elected Democrats align with them, sharpening both the movements and the party’s electoral prospects.” Progressive and labor strategists are taking note of such dynamics as they ramp up broad-based campaigns at the state level rather than hearkening immediately to the giant sucking sound of Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. The question is whether these movements can stay sufficiently independent of the national Democrats to succeed in their mission to bring some measure of fairness to our tax system, our government and our economy.
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Read more from The Nation’s May 30 issue on the conservative overreach in the states and how progressives are starting to push back across the country:
John Nichols, The Post-Wisconsin Game Plan
Bob Moser, Texas’ Wild Tea Party
Amy Hanauer, Ohio: A New Kind of Battleground
Allison Kilkenny, US Uncut Targets Corporate Tax Evaders
Mark Engler, A Fair Tax on Millionaires
Dean Baker, No Free Ride for Finance