Par­ti­san di­vide grows in US states, with mixed re­sults

The Sentinel-Record - - FRONT PAGE - RACHEL LA CORTE AND DAVID A. LIEB

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Democrats have hit the po­lit­i­cal tri­fecta in New Jersey and Wash­ing­ton state, seiz­ing com­plete con­trol of the gov­er­nor’s of­fice and leg­isla­tive cham­bers in the 2017 elec­tions.

Time to let fly with a big lib­eral agenda? Maybe, but tak­ing a few mod­est steps to the left is prob­a­bly more re­al­is­tic.

In a decade that has seen a resur­gence of Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion, two-thirds of all state gov­ern­ments now will be fully con­trolled by either Democrats or Repub­li­cans. That ri­vals the pre­dom­i­nant lev­els of sin­gle-party gov­er­nance last seen in the post-World War II era.

Yet re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence has shown that new Repub­li­can or Demo­cratic ma­jori­ties can still splin­ter among fac­tions of mod­er­ates and hard­core ide­o­logues. Even when a party bands to­gether for bold ini­tia­tives, the re­sults can be mixed.

Demo­cratic Gov. Jay Inslee, of Wash­ing­ton, al­ready ap­pears to be low­er­ing par­ti­san ex­pec­ta­tions as he pre­pares to work with a new Demo­cratic-led Sen­ate and House that will have ma­jori­ties of just a

few seats over Repub­li­cans.

“With very closely held mar­gins like this, nei­ther party con­trols the Leg­is­la­ture,” Inslee told The As­so­ci­ated Press in a phone in­ter­view while on a trade trip to Zurich, Switzer­land. He added: “I’m hope­ful more bi­par­ti­san votes will oc­cur.”

New Jersey might be po­si­tioned for a some­what more ag­gres­sive Demo­cratic agenda.

Newly elected Demo­cratic Gov. Phil Mur­phy will be paired with a leg­is­la­ture that is roughly two-thirds Democrats and had been at odds with Gov. Chris Christie, a Repub­li­can forced out of of­fice by term lim­its. The first bill the Sen­ate pres­i­dent wants to send to Mur­phy would boost taxes on high-earn­ers, some­thing Christie ve­toed five times. Mur­phy also has ex­pressed sup­port for le­gal­iz­ing recre­ational mar­i­juana, which Christie also op­posed.

Democrats will have full con­trol in eight states, all touch­ing the Pa­cific or At­lantic oceans, when the newly elected of­fi­cials are sworn into of­fice. Repub­li­cans will have full con­trol of 25 states. Six­teen will have po­lit­i­cally di­vided gov­ern­ments, most pit­ting leg­is­la­tures led by one party against a gov­er­nor of an­other. The Ne­braska Leg­is­la­ture is of­fi­cially non­par­ti­san.

Just five states — Alaska, Colorado, Maine, New York and po­ten­tially Vir­ginia, de­pend­ing on the out­come of sev­eral too-close-to-call House races — could have func­tional con­trol of their leg­isla­tive cham­bers split among the two ma­jor par­ties. That’s slightly less than the his­toric norm, ac­cord­ing to an AP anal­y­sis of data dat­ing to 1900 pro­vided by the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures.

The num­ber of uni­fied leg­is­la­tures paired with same-party gover­nors has surged sig­nif­i­cantly since the 1996 elec­tion, when just 37 per­cent of states had sin­gle-party gov­er­nance. It has re­mained above 60 per­cent of all states since Repub­li­cans swept into con­trol of many capi­tols in 2010. (Sin­gle-party gov­er­nance peaked at 83 per­cent of states after the 1946 and 1952 elec­tions).

Repub­li­cans have used their state ma­jori­ties to cut taxes, limit union pow­ers and ex­pand school-choice ini­tia­tives, some­times with more suc­cess than oth­ers.

This year, three states with new Repub­li­can gov­ern­ing tri­fec­tas made a strong push to en­act right-to-work laws bar­ring manda­tory union fees in work­place con­tracts. Leg­is­la­tion passed quickly in Ken­tucky and Mis­souri, al­though op­po­nents gath­ered enough pe­ti­tions to sus­pend Mis­souri’s new law pend­ing a voter ref­er­en­dum in 2018.

In New Hamp­shire, the rightto-work bill passed the Sen­ate but failed in the House as 32 of 223 Repub­li­can rep­re­sen­ta­tives bucked the new gov­er­nor on an is­sue that had been part of the GOP plat­form. Not only did the House kill the bill, it moved to “in­def­i­nitely post­pone” it, mean­ing no sim­i­lar bills can be de­bated for the re­main­der of the two-year ses­sion.

“It’s al­ways a chal­lenge. We never feel like we can take Repub­li­can votes for granted,” said Greg Mourad, vice pres­i­dent for leg­is­la­tion at the Na­tional Right to Work Com­mit­tee.

In Kansas, Repub­li­can Gov. Sam Brown­back en­acted ma­jor in­come tax cuts in 2012 and 2013 that were touted as an eco­nomic model for con­ser­va­tives. But Kansas strug­gled to bal­ance its bud­get as tax rev­enue fell and promised eco­nomic gains failed to make up the dif­fer­ence.

The GOP-con­trolled Leg­is­la­ture re­v­ersed course ear­lier this year, over­rid­ing Brown­back’s veto to raise in­come taxes by $1.2 bil­lion over two years. Brown­back has since re­signed to ac­cept a job in Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Kansas is now reg­u­larly cited by Repub­li­cans in neigh­bor­ing Mis­souri and else­where as a model for how not to use ma­jor­ity pow­ers.

Democrats also have had prob­lems man­ag­ing ma­jori­ties. In 2006, the first year in of­fice for former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, a Demo­crat, state govern­ment shut down amid a bud­get stand­off be­tween him and the Demo­cratic-led Leg­is­la­ture.

Cal­i­for­nia is of­ten cited as the gold stan­dard of Demo­cratic strength, with su­per­ma­jori­ties in the Leg­is­la­ture and con­trol of the gov­er­nor’s of­fice and ev­ery other statewide of­fice.

Democrats there have picked fights with Trump and ad­vanced a de­cid­edly lib­eral agenda. But some of the harsh­est cri­tiques of the Leg­is­la­ture have come from the left.

A plan to elim­i­nate health in­surance and pro­vide govern­ment-funded cov­er­age to all has stalled in the Cal­i­for­nia As­sem­bly, lead­ing some Demo­cratic ac­tivists to launch a long­shot bid to un­seat As­sem­bly Speaker An­thony Ren­don. Some en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions also have been frus­trated that Democrats haven’t tough­ened the state’s cap-and-trade pro­gram to re­duce green­house gas emis­sions.

Democrats in Wash­ing­ton may be con­strained by po­lit­i­cal and leg­isla­tive re­al­i­ties. They are sched­uled to have only a 60-day ses­sion in 2018, and the agenda will in­clude pass­ing a bud­get for state con­struc­tion projects that stalled this year amid dis­putes in the po­lit­i­cally split Leg­is­la­ture. Then Democrats will be forced to de­fend their new ma­jor­ity when leg­isla­tive seats are back on the bal­lot in Novem­ber 2018.

Wash­ing­ton’s Repub­li­can Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Leader, Mark Schoesler, said vot­ers have ben­e­fited from hav­ing “checks and bal­ances” in­herit in a split Leg­is­la­ture and warned that “fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity is in jeop­ardy” with Democrats in full con­trol.

But Demo­cratic lead­ers said a ma­jor tax plan, such as a new cap­i­tal gains tax, is un­likely in the near fu­ture. More likely are in­cre­men­tal pro­pos­als to close some tax ex­emp­tions and ex­pand en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions.

“You’re go­ing to see less grid­lock,” said Demo­cratic state Rep. Joe Fitzgib­bon, chair­man of the House En­vi­ron­men­tal Com­mit­tee. But he also noted: “That doesn’t mean re­ally ag­gres­sive pro­gres­sive items will be fly­ing out of the Leg­is­la­ture next year.”

The As­so­ci­ated Press

STATE POL­I­TICS: In this Nov. 6 photo, Demo­cratic gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date Phil Mur­phy ar­rives to a cam­paign event in Edi­son, N.J. Mur­phy de­feated Repub­li­can Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno to suc­ceed Repub­li­can Gov. Chris Christie.

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