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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

THE LOCAL RACE

"I'd be surprised if there were Democrat pickups this year"

Gerrymander
In all the discussion and interest in national races, there's something significant being forgotten by most pundits: what happens at the state level. The state level is where tomorrow's national politicians are found, and they decide far more significantly how your life will be in terms of finance and politics than Washington DC.

Republicans are poised to gain big in the US Congress in a massive backlash against arrogance, vast overspending, corruption, and contempt for voters by the Democratic Party. Its as if the Democrats saw what Republicans did and said "lets do that, but ten times as much!" But what about the local races? What happens there says more about the race than at the national level.

For example, in my home state of Oregon, there's been Democrats in the governor's mansion since 1991, and in the last thirty years, there's been one Republican governor. Former basketball player for the Portland Trailblazers Chris Dudley is in a very tight race with the Democrat offering, John Kitzhaber who was governor before and left the state in not very good shape. 37 total governors are up for election this year - the most ever - and the states are about half and half Republican and Democrat, the party which has a majority by 1 governor. At present it looks like Democrats will lose at least a dozen governorships.

In state legislatures and assemblies, Republicans also look to gain a lot of ground. Jennifer C Kerr writes for the AP that "he Republicans' expected gains next week go way beyond Congress. The GOP could capture new Senate or House majorities in a dozen to 18 states..." Democrats presently control both houses in nearly twice as many states as Republicans: 27 to 14. In total, Democrats control 60 state chambers (most have 2) and Republicans control 36 (most have two houses). That is going to end tonight, but how big a swing is anybody's guess. This is very significant in two ways.

First, as the Kerr article notes, this is the year which states redraw the congressional districts for their states based on new census data. With Republicans in charge, they'll be the ones gerrymandering the districts to bizarre shapes to best benefit their party rather than Democrats doing it. Historically, Democrats have almost always been the ones in charge of this process:
Over the past four decades, Democrats have enjoyed at least a 2-to-1 advantage in redistricting authority, said Carl Klarner, a political scientist at Indiana State University who has studied more than 2,100 state legislative elections from 1950 forward.
That's going to be different this time around, with likely consequences for the next few election cycles at least.

Second, a shift in legislatures can give more conservative governors (like Chris Christie in New Jersey and Robert Jindal in Louisiana) an easier time trying to cut the budget back and restrain the fiscal insanity wrought over past decades by both parties.

What's significant here is that the Tea Party movement has had much more significant impact than most people are aware of. National races and information I had and most folks interested in politics were able to easily obtain. Local issues, races, and information is a little more challenging to get, even at the state level, for most states. California and New York get a lot of press so its easy to find their politics and information but Wyoming, Idaho, and Arkansas are different stories. The Tea Party rallies and websites had a lot more information for these local issues and races than was previously well known.

See, if this national mood was merely anger at Democrats in the US Congress, then state politics wouldn't change much. We'd throw out congressmen and put in different ones, then watch them to see if they listened. But there's a significant shift in the nation's ideas about fiscal and economic policy going on here.

People are more than fed up with congress, they're suffering economic malaise and want a change. They see the huge debts piled up by government at all levels and the lack of proper service and want that to change. They're sick of police and fire not getting what they need but midnight basketball, public union pensions, and studies of global warming on ants getting plenty of funds. People want jobs and they want government to tighten its belt, not get fatter.

That means a lot of cuts and austerity at the state level. Democrats are going to have a field day showing sad families who lost their state job and woeful artists complaining that the soul of the country is dying because they couldn't vomit on a canvas and have it bought by the capitol. Make no mistake, the backlash is going to be brutal, because Democrats want to use this to win power, not to argue their position on the issues. I expect all those economic stories we haven't seen for 2 years are going to suddenly surge to the forefront every night on TV.

The only questions are whether or not the newly elected governments can do what has to be done with spending and austerity to deal with the mess their predecessors created... and whether the public will have the discernment and spine to stand for it until the work is done.

*hat tip to William Teach at Right Wing News for this concept and the AP story.

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