Monday, August 30, 2021


The New York Times has a story about the death of democracy in Republican-controlled states. But it isn't presented as a story about that. We're simply told that Republicans are making an aggressive ideological push in the 60% of states where they control legislatures, with no real discussion of why Republicans control 60% of legislatures in a country where they've lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections.
Increasingly, state legislatures, especially in 30 Republican-controlled states, have seized an outsize role for themselves, pressing conservative agendas on voting, Covid-19 and the culture wars that are amplifying partisan splits and shaping policy well beyond their own borders.

Indeed, for a party out of power in Washington, state legislatures have become enormous sources of leverage and influence. That is especially true for rural conservatives who largely control the legislatures in key states like Wisconsin, Texas and Georgia and could now lock in a strong Republican tilt in Congress and cement their own power for the next decade.
Wisconsin and Georgia voted for Joe Biden. Texas has five of the thirteen most populous cities in America. Yet "rural conservatives ... largely control the legislatures." Why?
The next battle, already underway in many states, is over the drawing of congressional and state legislative districts. Republicans control 26 of the legislatures that will draw political maps, compared with 13 for Democrats. (Other states have nonpartisan commissions that draw legislative districts, or have just one seat.)
There's no mention of the last round of redistricting, which was a principal reason for the imbalances I'm talking about. There's no mention of REDMAP, the GOP's Redistricting Majority Project, which targeted state legislatures prior to 2010 and helped give the GOP district-drawing power out of proportion to its electoral popularity nationwide. The current imbalances aren't described as imbalances and are presented as a fact of nature.
The national role being played by state legislatures reflects in part the sorting of Americans into opposing partisan camps. Thirty years ago, 15 of the 50 state legislatures were split between Republican and Democratic control. Today, only Minnesota’s House and Senate are divided.

And the system favors partisanship. Few pay attention to state assembly races, so roughly four in 10 seats nationwide are uncontested in general elections, said Gary Moncrief, a co-author of the standard work on state politics, “Why States Matter.”

“That means the real decisions are made in the primaries,” he said, where voters tend to be hard-liners.
But we're never told that Republican hard-liners survive general elections because Republican redistricters draw district boundaries in such a way as to ensure their victory no matter how extreme they are, and create many more Republican than Democratic districts, even in fifty-fifty states.

And what do these GOP hard-liners do with this power?
This year’s legislative sessions have spawned the largest wave of anti-abortion legislation since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Many Republican legislatures have seized power from Democratic-leaning cities and counties on issues including policing, the coronavirus and tree preservation. They have made base-energizing issues like transgender rights and classroom teaching on race centerpieces of debate.
(If I'd been writing this, I might have mentioned state overrides of local efforts to increase the minimum wage, control the flow of guns, or remove Confederate statues rather than tree preservation, but that's just me.)

There's a great deal of focus on new revisions of election law -- understandably, given Donald Trump's efforts to steal last year's presidential election.
Most important, they have rewritten election and voting laws in ways that largely hinder Democratic-leaning voters and give Republicans more influence over how elections are run — and, critics say, how they are decided. And in some states, they are eyeing their own versions of the Arizona State Senate’s brazenly partisan review of the 2020 vote, a new and, to many, dangerous attack on the nonpartisan underpinnings of American elections....

Arkansas empowered the State Elections Board to investigate local elections and “take corrective action” against suspected irregularities.... Iowa and other states would levy fines and even criminal penalties for missteps by local election officials, raising concerns that punishments could be used for partisan gain.

Georgia’s legislature gave itself control over most appointments to the State Election Board and allowed it to investigate and replace local election officials. Already, lawmakers are seeking an inquiry in Fulton County, a Democratic stronghold....
It's good to point this out -- but why no mention of the fact that this is just a continuation of what Republicans have been doing for many years? Why no mention of the yearslong nationwide push for voter ID laws, the massive 2017 voter-roll purge in Georgia that may well have cost Democrats the governorship, the imposition of what's effectively a poll tax on felons in Florida after voters chose to reenfranchise them in a 2018 referendum?

This story is worthwhile up to a point. Times readers should know that Republicans are using legislative power to push through an extreme agenda in a majority of American states. But there's no mention of how we got here. A reader might think that Republicans didn't even consider monkeying with the election laws until Donald Trump gave them the idea. It didn't start with Trump, and it won't end when he's gone.

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