Looking at state governments around the United States, one lesson becomes clear. Put Democrats in charge and good things can happen. Give Republicans control of the machinery of government and they will dither or turn the clock backwards. While it has become fashionable for cynics to lament the ineffectiveness of both political parties in governing, a look at the United States right now reveals that when Democrats are given a governing majority they will pass common sense legislative agendas that benefit the populations they serve. Put Republicans in charge and they will try to suppress the vote, probe vaginas and pass laws that are wildly unpopular even with Republican voters. Ignore the false equivalency cynicism. In our current political climate, the difference between Democratic and Republican controlled states could hardly be any wider.
Take for example Democratic run California, where voters put Jerry Brown into office in 2010 and then delivered him a tax increase and legislative super majorities in both chambers in 2012. Although the state was experiencing a crippling fiscal crisis just a couple of years ago, it is now back on its feet with its first budget surplus in years. On Tuesday July 2nd, Governor Brown signed into law a school formula bill that will benefit low and middle income students from kindergarten all the way through college. The bill increases education funding by eight billion dollars, much of it targeted towards disadvantaged school districts in low income areas. In addition, Brown signed into law a bill that will provide college grants to students from modest income families reducing educational fees by up to forty percent for households with incomes under 100,000 a year. Furthermore, the state’s new budget restores subsidized dental services for the poor, increases child care subsidies for working families and provides increased funding for mental health services.
However, California is not the only state where Democratic control of both houses of the legislature and control of the governor’s mansion, is yielding tangible benefits for residents. Earlier this year Delaware and Minnesota lawmakers legalized same-sex marriages. Colorado passed landmark gun control legislation including enhanced background checks, magazine size limits and new restrictions to make it harder for domestic violence offenders to own a gun. Colorado also passed a same day voter registration bill making it easier for residents to cast a ballot. Maryland repealed the Death penalty. The state houses and senates of Connecticut and Rhode Island each passed a homeless persons’ Bill of Rights, extending legal protections and non-discrimination measures to the homeless.
Meanwhile states under Republican control seem eager to move backwards to a time before Roe v. Wade and the Voting Rights Act became law. Ohio, North Carolina and Texas seem bent on passing some of the harshest anti-abortion laws in the nation. Wendy Davis’ filibuster thwarted Texas’ anti-abortion law momentarily, but Governor Rick Perry quickly reconvened a special session in the hopes of muscling through a bill that would reduce the number of clinics in the state to just five. Ohio and North Carolina are working on similarly restrictive legislation.
Nowhere have the failures of GOP control been more apparent than in North Carolina. In the past nine weeks, over 600 demonstrators have been arrested outside North Carolina’s state capitol, protesting the legislature’s dramatic tilt to the far right. While Colorado has added same day voting, North Carolina Republicans are in the process of eliminating same day voting as well as early voting and Sunday voting. In addition, despite having one the nation’s highest unemployment rates, state lawmakers eliminated jobless benefits for the long term unemployed and reduced weekly benefits for those still eligible to collect unemployment, rendering the state ineligible for 700 million dollars in federal aid. North Carolina also rejected the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, something that could have directly benefited approximately half a million residents.
North Carolina’s legislature is doing such a dreadful job that even Republican voters are deeply unhappy with their performance. Only 1 in 5 North Carolina voters approve of the legislature’s work this session, and even among Republicans that number is just 36 percent. The tone deafness of North Carolina lawmakers is evident in their support for a bill to raise consumer interest rates on loans to 30 percent, a proposal that only two percent of state’s voters support. Just five percent of Republican voters support the plan. Likewise, the legislature’s plan to allow guns on all school campuses in the state and their proposal to ban Tesla from selling electric cars in North Carolina are not only wildly unpopular proposals with North Carolina residents but they are even intensely disliked by Republican voters.
As the week continues to unfold we are likely to see more outrageous legislation put forth in Republican controlled states and more protests as citizens attempt to be heard. No doubt we will also continue to hear cynics who blame both political parties and insist that it does not matter which party is in control. Well it may be true that it does not matter who you vote for unless you are a woman, a student, a racial, ethnic or religious minority, an immigrant, a minimum wage worker, a homeless person, a middle income parent, a teacher, a gay person, an unemployed person, a senior citizen, a small business owner, a food stamp recipient, a person who needs medical care, or a disabled person. If you fit one or more of those categories, then the difference between having Republicans or Democrats in charge of your state involves real life consequences that do in fact matter.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.