No One Is Paying Attention to the Real Battle for Power
One of the most important — and generally overlooked — results of last week’s midterm election was Republican success in increasing control of state legislatures, putting the GOP in a strong position to block expansion of Obamacare to millions of poor people and to pass more laws that would limit women’s access to abortion, contraception and birth control counseling.
“A Republican wave swept over the states, leaving Democrats at their lowest point in state legislatures in nearly a century,” reported Tim Storey of the National Conference of State Legislators, a nonpartisan group that works with statehouse lawmakers.
Before the Nov. 4 elections, Republicans controlled 57 legislative chambers in the 50 states. By legislative chambers, I mean the Senate and the House in each statehouse. The election raised the number to 66. Control of one house can be as important as control of both. While running one house, a party also can influence the other. That’s why these Republicans, who tend to be anti-choice and anti-Obamacare, have been able to initiate and pass anti-abortion legislation and prevent access for working class and poor families to the Medicaid program. Making that task even easier, Tuesday’s election greatly increased the number of Republican governors — from 21 to 32, the national legislators conference reported.
These important lawmakers and governors usually don’t make the national political news unless they’re big shots like New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who may run for president. In fact, state politicians don’t get much national attention unless they do something foolish or crooked enough to warrant the kind of ridicule John Oliver recently dished out on his very funny HBO show.
There are too many of these state lawmakers and too few journalists trying to report on their activities. And on Election Day, news flowed from Washington, as it usually does, reported by correspondents who only occasionally venture out into the rest of the country.
Yet state lawmakers have tremendous impact on how America lives.
Take the abortion issue. A map produced by NARAL Pro-Choice America (formerly the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) shows the states it considers anti-choice. They run from North Dakota through Texas and the South. It resembles a map of red-state Republican America. And it pretty much matches the legislators conference’s map of Republican controlled statehouses.
NARAL said governments of 24 such states enacted 52 anti-choice measures in 2013. The website Vox reported, “After major Republican victories in 2010, legislatures passed 205 abortion restrictions through 2013 — more than the 30 previous years combined.”
What does NARAL mean by anti-choice laws? Among those making the NARAL list are measures banning abortion after 20 weeks; delaying abortions to allow time for an anti-choice lecture and distribution of written material; targeting abortion providers with tough, often punitive, regulation; banning insurance plans from covering abortions; preventing organizations receiving state or federal funds from counseling on abortion; and restricting poor and young women’s access to abortion.
The Republican legislators and governors also have an opportunity to go after Obamacare. In its ruling on the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court left it up to the states to decide whether to expand their Medicaid programs, with most of the costs paid by the federal government. Sarah Kliff of Vox noted that 23 states have not done so. Expansion would bring 4.5 million more people into Obamacare. But, as Vox said, “With so many Republican victories, particularly in large states like Florida and Texas, it remains very likely that these Medicaid programs will remain unexpanded — and millions of Americans won’t be able to get health insurance as a result.”
I don’t doubt there will be more harm coming from the Republican legislatures and governors. You can count on more restrictions on voting, aimed at keeping minority voters — likely Democratic supporters –away from the polls.
And then there is the big cache of bills originated by the conservative, business-run American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC.
ALEC members include legislators around the country. Its extensive research operation and the rest of its staff are, for the most part, financed by corporations. Relying on ideas from business and its legislator members, ALEC staffers write “model” legislation to be introduced in statehouses around the country.
Its best-known effort was the “stand your ground” law, passed by 25 state legislators and used in George Zimmerman’s successful defense when he was accused of the murder of Trayvon Martin.
But its most important work for its business partners is to write intricate laws that weaken utility, telecom and other regulation in the states. The legislation helps the utilities, telecoms and other companies involved in the rapidly changing communications business. The model legislation is given to lawmakers in statehouses who have been known to read ALEC handouts verbatim when speaking for their bills. ALEC also produces legislation designed to weaken labor unions.
The harm caused by the powerful Senate and House Republican majorities may be reported, but you can bet the attention of the Washington media will be more on how the debate affects the 2016 presidential election. Policy implications will be discussed in passing, if at all.
Much of the real harm will go unreported except, hopefully, by the local and regional media. Too many news organizations, however, have reduced or eliminated their statehouse bureaus. Only the victims will know, the young and poor in need of abortion help and the sick deprived of Medicare.Wait, before you go…
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