Pointing the way forward to 2016
A positive Republican message pays big dividends in the 50 states
The big news in the midterm elections Tuesday focused on the Republican takeover of the Senate and the unexpectedly large gains in the House. The numbers ensure that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John A. Boehner should be able to fashion legislative majorities to move important bills dealing with health care, taxes and energy security. This could be a productive legislative session if the president decides to cooperate with, not impede, the new congressional leadership.
The other story of 2014 is the validation of the aggressive actions of Republican governors and Republican state legislators, who have been working since 2010 to modernize state governments by delivering state services more efficiently without raising taxes. Republican reform governors such as Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Rick Snyder of Michigan, Rick Scott of Florida, and John Kasich of Ohio were all re-elected.
In addition, many solidly blue states, seeing what these reformers have accomplished, also elected Republicans to help straighten out state finances and keep taxes down in Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland.
The Republican tide continued in the state legislatures. Governors can’t accomplish their reform goals without legislative majorities, and the results of Nov. 4 brought Republican control to 67 of 99 partisan state chambers, the highest totals ever for the GOP. Republican control at the state level is broad and diverse and not limited to any single region of the country. Consider these facts:
First, the GOP now has legislative majorities in every chamber of all 13 states of the old Confederacy, plus Oklahoma.
Second, Republicans held their majorities in states in their ancestral Midwest home, including Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Third, Republicans won the House in New Mexico, the Colorado Senate and both houses in Nevada, fast-growing states with large Hispanic populations.
Fourth, for the first time ever, the GOP now controls the West Virginia House and Senate.
Control of state legislatures is critical to the future of the party in several respects. First, a number of candidates elected to Congress this year acquired their campaign and policy skills by serving in state legislatures. As a result, the GOP fielded strong candidates that won key races in Colorado (Cory Gardner), Iowa (Joni Ernst), North Carolina (Thom Tillis), West Virginia (Shelley Moore Capito), as well as newly elected House members Barbara Comstock (Virginia) and Barry Loudermilk (Georgia), among many others. Republicans did not kick away seats this year because of bad candidates.
Second, state legislatures working with reform Republican governors are devising innovative policy solutions to the problems that concern Americans today. Unlike states dominated by “progressive” Democrats, Republican legislatures are dealing with budget problems by eliminating unnecessary spending, reforming needed programs and restoring fiscal responsibility without raising taxes.
Republican states are leading the way in reforming state bureaucracies and rationalizing state-employee compensation, enhancing state competitiveness by reforming labor laws, and fundamentally changing the way states deliver vital services, such as education and health care. These policy initiatives will be critical as Republican majorities in Congress seek new ideas to bring massive federal bureaucracies under control. Governors and state legislative leaders can provide a wealth of information to federal policymakers who are grappling with federal overspending and wasteful regulations.
If voters were voting against President Obama’s policies at the federal level, this was not the dynamic with the state voting. Republicans were defending the vast majority of governors and legislatures, yet not only were most reelected, but additional governors and chambers were won in blue and purple states. This was an affirmative endorsement of the Republican strategy of pursuing policies of renewal and reform at the state level. The voters rewarded Republicans who dealt with difficult problems rather than kicking them down the road.
Such a reform, future-oriented strategy points the way for GOP success in 2016. Frank Donatelli is former assistant to President Reagan for political and intergovernmental affairs and now serves as chairman of GOPAC.