Monday, December 13, 2004

Who Knew?
Outside of state-capital organs like the Albany Times-Union, state-level politics and policymaking is generally ill-covered in the U.S. on the specifics, let alone larger trends and truths. So you might not know that, in terms of policy priorities, the fabled Red/Blue distinction doesn't mean what you think it means in states like Alabama, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, among others. The first two states, deep Red strongholds that neither George Bush nor John Kerry ever regarded as "in play" this year, have Democrat-controlled legislatures; the latter two, both Blue states where Kerry managed to beat back Republican challenges, are run by Republicans. Other states that aren't considered especially competitive in presidential politics but are "split" at the state level, with each party controlling one house, include Kentucky, New York, Oklahoma, and Oregon. Check out the map.

Now, I understand that the presence of (nominally) Democratic legislative majorities in certain Deep South states can be dismissed as historical anachronism, a lagging indicator of the 40-year realignment that kept Al Gore and John Kerry off the scoreboard in the states of the Old Confederacy. And New York, the state I know best, has returned Republican majorities to the state Senate for decades (though the majority shrunk this year, and few expect it to last all that much longer as the state trends more and more Democratic). The same polarizing trend, in reverse, tilted the Georgia legislature to the Republicans this year. Pennsylvania and Michigan are probably best explained by the urban/rural divide, with "cultural conservatives" better spread out across the miles.

But the map suggests a couple questions for Democrats that we might do well to ponder in this latest season of our discontent: why do states that support us in presidential elections cede legislative control to Republicans, and what (if anything) are Democrats doing in Alabama, Arkansas, Montana, Oklahoma, and other unlikely locales to shuck off the "brand problems" that evidently doom all candidates for higher office who run with the "D" after their names?

In the near-desperate search for good news after November 2, many pointed out that Democrat Brian Schweitzer won the governorship in Montana, and that both legislative houses in Colorado went to the Dems as did the Senate seat and a House seat, won by the brothers Salazar. Here's one Colorado Democrat on what happened, emphasizing the importance of local issues. From the other "side", David Sirota's apparently controversial piece in The American Prospect touts the primacy of economic populism. (Yes, I know Sirota also wrote the Monthly piece on Schweitzer.)

I don't know what the answer is, but at the least we'd better start talking through the questions.

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