If you listened to Republican Governors John Kasich and Chris Christie. as well as former Governor Jeb Bush, you would think that Ohio, New Jersey and Florida are knocking on the door of heaven on earth. All these states have eliminated terrible deficits and are swimming in financial surpluses. Small businesses are free of regulations, families have choices of schools and, well, to quote Garrison Keillor, “all the children are above average.” They’re also shouting from the mountaintop in Michigan, where Governor Rick Snyder has eliminated the deficit and created a $2 billion government surplus.
These governors should get frequent flyer miles and use the to visit a place or two in their states. I know Rick Snyder has the coin to go the 52 miles from the capital—Lansing–Flint. He’s been to Flint in recent months, but if you listened to him talk, you wouldn’t know it.
Here’s a simple question: “Does a miracle leave residue?” If you live in Flint, MI, you’re right in the middle of one of the many dung piles in what is affectionately called “the Great Lakes State.” Somehow, the state surplus occurred without remembering to continue to provide the city of Flint with clean, fresh water from Lake Huron, rather than the industrial backwash of the Flint River.
Has John Kasich of Ohio been to the Hough neighborhood of Cleveland lately? And to Chris Christie of New Jersey, have you come up with any new ideas for how to improve the traffic flow from New Jersey to Manhattan over the George Washington Bridge? And to Jeb Bush, how do you feel about that 29% poverty rate in Miami? And if you cross Biscayne Bay to Miami Beach, is it possible that climate change might have anything to do with why your shoes are always getting soaked on Collins Avenue?
If our 50 states were ever “laboratories of democracy,” they have now become laboratories on how to undermine democracy. Kasich’s Ohio and Bush’s Florida are among the leading states in making it more difficult for citizens to exercise their American right to vote. And how is democracy working in terms of providing health care for the poor? In one of the greatest domestic miscalculations of the 1960s, Medicaid administration was turned over to the states. Now 22 states, all with either with a Republican governor or a Republican-controlled legislature, have refused essentially “free” federal money to provide necessary care and services to the poor. That’s something that even Donald Trump has said would not happen in his plan “to make America great again.”
Yes, the states came first, just as the Lords came first to the British Parliament. But each is an anachronism. The Brits have wisely made the House of Lords ceremonial and left the business of governing to the House of Commons.
That’s what we should do in the United States with our thoroughly disunited states. Just as the “Lords” in Britain have little tasks to keep them busy, we could keep the states in tact enough so that they don’t have total identity crises. They could continue to be the sites of major universities bearing their names; they could continue to have birds and songs that have historically represented them. They could even remain on maps.
But the federal government must be the only protector of human rights; states could no longer erode them. America’s metropolitan areas could be governed by jurisdictions that actually reflect where people live and work.
Yes, this cannot happen overnight. But put the idea of sending states out to pasture on the list of ideas that should be presented for consideration to today’s and tomorrow’s students. Perhaps in 25 or 50 years, we can actually move in that direction. In the meantime, you might want to use a little caution, even hesitation, when hearing Republican governors brag about their states.
Oh, and lest I forget, I will continue to be thankful to the legion of progressive Democrats in state legislators who keep fighting the erosion of our rights and economic fairness. I’d love to see some of you run for Congress!