The sea change results of the election of 2010 reverberated all the way down to the state level where the GOP picked off several governorships and managed to pack a number of legislatures. In the ensuing two years, those majorities and governors have had what amounts to a free hand to craft policies that have significant national implications, especially for women and minorities. Each of these developments will be considered in turn, starting with the two that I deem most important.
Gerrymandering: In 2010, a national census was taken, as it is every ten years. The outcome is used, in part, to identify demographic shifts in the population by state, even down to the district level. State legislatures can then employ these results to re-draw district lines so that, in theory, each jurisdiction provides a good representation of the characteristics of its inhabitants. In practice, what GOP-controlled state legislatures have done is to gerrymander; i.e. re-configure districts so that Republicans/conservatives are concentrated in as many of them as possible, thus aggregating their voting strength while weakening that of Democrats/progressives throughout the state, district-by-district.
Given this abbreviated explanation of gerrymandering, consider its impact: Any district that has been re-shaped into a Republican one now becomes an odds-on favorite to send to the state capital and Washington, DC, a Republican representative. Indeed, many of the Republicans elected to the US House in 2010 are likely to be there for the next several years, unless they are unseated by another party member who presents with even greater conservative voter appeal.
Anyone elected from a gerrymandered district can insure his/her re-election by continuing to vote the interests of the majority of district constituents, no matter what the national mood might be. A specific and current case in point involves the overwhelming sentiment for background checks on people seeking to buy a firearm. Republicans from gerrymander districts have already lined up against any such bill, confident that they are doing what their constituents believe is right/needed. Bottom line? Gerrymandering can work as the antithesis of term limits.
No More “Winner-Take-All”?: As a republic, founded on democratic principles, we have always held that one person gets one vote and the majority rules. Our Electoral College was set up with these principles in mind. Thus, if a candidate got the majority of votes from a given state’s residents, all the state’s Electoral College votes went to that individual. This is so bedrock and fundamental you would think that change would be out of the question. But, in some of the states whose legislatures are under GOP control the concept of “majority rule” is being subjected to redefinition; i.e. if a candidate wins a majority of a state’s districts, he gets the majority of the state’s Electoral College votes. So, suppose a state is made up of 15 districts, with 10 rural, conservative in nature and sparsely populated, and five urban with four times the number of inhabitants, most being progressives. Under existing policy with one person/one vote and majority rule, a Democrat candidate would be the likely winner of all the state’s Electoral College votes. But, under the new definition, the conservative opponent would be apt to pick up somewhere around 66% of the College votes; i.e. 10 of 15 districts while losing the popular vote in something akin to a landslide. Had the 2012 presidential election been decided in this new way, Barack Obama would probably have lost!!
Drastic Legislation: Two examples at the state level will suffice. Both would dramatically impact women and their rights. First, in North Dakota, the Legislature has just passed the most extreme of all abortion laws. Specifically, any abortion, for any reason, performed after 6 weeks, is illegal. Since a fetal heartbeat can only rarely be detected prior to that time so that a woman wouldn’t even know if she was pregnant, this law would effectively end all abortions. This statute is so prohibitive that it even goes well beyond the time limits imposed in the 1973 US Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.
Second, some states, again with GOP-controlled legislatures, have tried or are trying to impose on women, invasive medical procedures related to a possible pregnancy and abortion. Under existing conditions, a test like a trans-vaginal probe would only be undertaken by a women after private consultation with her physician. In Virginia, the state sought, not just to inject itself into that conversation, but dictate its contents and outcome. Whatever happened to the conservative precepts of individual liberty and freedom from “nanny state” control? The Republican hypocrisy here is breath-taking.
Conclusion: If, in the past, you have paid scant attention to state-wide elections, perhaps even to the extent of not participating, better re-think your indifference. Time to start paying attention; studying the positions of candidates by visiting their websites, reading their views on important issues and finally, by voting. State elections really do matter, now more than ever, and for all the reasons set forth above.