Republicans flipped twenty legislative chambers across the country in 2010 and picked up 10 governorships. Many Republicans, like Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, campaigned on the economy, promising more jobs, but having won, are racing to push through a radical conservative agenda. The country is looking for help on the economy, but state Republicans are devoting themselves to tax breaks for the rich, anti-abortion legislation, the destruction of public sector unions, and the suppression of the vote. Not exactly what the electorate bargained for.
According to the Washington Post,
Legislators have proposed 374 antiabortion bills this year, up from 174 last year. Lawmakers have introduced more than 750 bills on collective bargaining this year, with more than 500 aimed at public sector unions, a significant increase over past years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
At least 32 states are considering new or tougher requirements for voter identification at the polls. And 3,000 bills targeting pension reform for public sector employees are in hoppers nationwide, many of them modeled after legislation proposed by the American Legislative Change Council (ALEC), a high-profile conservative think tank that helps legislatures shape fiscal policy.
In Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and other states, polls are showing that independent and moderate voters who voted Republican are having buyer’s remorse. For example, hundreds of thousands demonstrated in Madison against Walker’s attempt to destroy public sector unions, including union members who had voted for him. A recall effort scheduled for July 12 could return the Wisconsin Senate to Democratic control. And after January 2012, another recall is planned against Governor Walker himself. In Ohio, Governor John Kasich pushed to strip state union’s of their collective bargaining rights through a bill called SB 5. That bill would actually go further than the one in Wisconsin by not exempting fire and law enforcement unions from the changes. And, Kasich aims to close an $8 billion budget gap largely through cuts to government services, such as a tightening of the eligibility requirements for government-subsidized health care for children in low income families. Ohioans are upset that Kasich’s budget will most hurt the state’s poor. In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder (R) is facing a backlash because of his controversial proposal to grant him the power to declare a financial emergency—what some are calling “financial martial law”—in a given city and appoint an emergency manager of his choosing. That manager could void union contracts and even dissolve a city government.
GOP overreach in Governor’s mansions and state houses could have an effect on national House and Senate races in those states in 2012. For example, in Wisconsin, Democratic Senator Herb Kohl is retiring and it’s not clear who is going to run for his seat—in either party—although there is a strong movement to encourage Russ Feingold to run again. But, Wisconsin voters, who are unhappy with the GOP agenda at the state and local level, may not be keen to elect a Republican. The likely Republican candidate would have been Representative Paul Ryan (WI) but it appears he has decided not to run. He has been a favorite of conservatives in WI, and a favorite of Wall Street, so he would have had plenty of money to mount a serious campaign. Then, he came up with a plan to radically restructure Medicare. Polls found that 80 percent of Americans opposed Ryan’s scheme, and angry crowds greeted the congressman in his April town hall meetings across southeast Wisconsin.
These are Democratic and moderate Republican voters who are angered by what their Republican Governor is doing in Madison and their representative is doing in Washington. Voters in Wisconsin and other states are turning against the radical GOP agenda, one that is decidedly out of touch with working families who are struggling with job loss and foreclosure. GOP overreach, at the state and local level, combined with their lack of real solutions for the economy, may just help Democrats in 2012.