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In the two weeks since the election, the general consensus has been that Republicans got hammered. From Mitt Romney’s Election Day collapse to the party’s failure to take back the Senate and prevent ballot initiatives legalizing same-sex marriage, Republicans took big hits up and down the ballot. But the results actually weren’t all bad for the GOP. AP reporter David Lieb points out that the Republican supermajorities swept statehouses across the South and Great Plains states, ushering in powerful one-party governments that are likely to make major tax cuts, slash spending to public education and social programs, and resist the implementation of President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform legislation at every turn.
According to Lieb, Republicans gained or expanded their supermajorities in North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Georgia. (To be fair, blue states also went bluer too, with Democrats dominating the statehouse races in California, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.)
Although largely unnoticed on a national scale, these partisan waves could have significant implications for the residents in those states, allowing both parties to push through extreme partisan agendas with little opposition from the other side.
If the parties make full use of their enlarged majorities, residents of similar-sized cities in different parts of the country could soon experience a virtual continental divide in their way of life.
In one state, businesses could pay little to no taxes, the result of policies intended to spur hiring. Public schools might function at a basics-only level, with parents free to use public money to send their children to private schools. Only the poorest of the poor adults could expect medical care from the government.
In another state, residents would pay higher taxes, and the government would inject billions of dollars into public education with the goal of creating a highly skilled workforce to attract businesses. A social safety net would exist for the poor, including working adults not even considered to be in poverty.
States already have different approaches to taxes, the economy and care for the poor, but they have been tempered by compromise. Now the middle ground may begin to disappear in favour of stark extremes.
Supermajorities can allow lawmakers to override governors’ vetoes, change tax rates, put constitutional amendments on the ballot, rewrite legislative rules and establish a quorum for business — all without any participation by the opposing party.
Beyond the immediate policy impact, the deeply partisan state legislatures could have a long-term effect on the national parties, particularly the GOP, which controls a huge number of state houses across the southern half of the country.
State legislatures are the breeding ground for candidates at the federal level. If the party’s farm team is made up of politicians who have built their careers around catering to the deep red base, then the GOP could continue to struggle to come up with candidates with statewide — and nationwide — appeal.
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