No, I’m not referring to the United States Congress, where the Republicans now control both chambers but still face Senate filibusters, presidential vetoes, and squabbling between the party’s traditional and hard-right factions.
The GOP’s opportunity to govern is in the 23 states where the party will control the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature, and where about 45 percent of the American population lives. (Make that 24 states if you include Nebraska, which has an officially nonpartisan legislature that is ideologically in line with the Republicans.) According to the latest tallies from the Washington Post and from the National Conference of State Legislatures, these include such large states as Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas. Democrats will control only seven states, but they will include California, making Gov. Jerry Brown one of the party’s biggest policymakers.
This week’s election was a triumph for the already-existing Republican laboratories. Republicans kept unified control in Kansas, where tax cuts have lead to deficits and fired teachers; in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker has disemboweled public-sector unions; and in North Carolina, where it’s verboten to speak of climate change and where policies that include cuts to unemployment benefits and a rejection of Medicaid expansion, have lead to “Moral Monday” protests in the capital. (More voter vindication in North Carolina: House Speaker Thom Tillis upset Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan on Tuesday.)
In almost half of the United States, the Republican Party will own government next year, and GOP-states have become increasingly bold in going their own way. In some cases, this means enacting measures designed to restrict voting, or essentially nullifying the federal Affordable Care Act. More surprisingly, some Republican-dominated states are experimenting with ways to reduce incarceration rates and make it easier for ex-prisoners to find work.
Because American voters concentrate on—or obsess over—the presidency (and the media certainly enables this), it’s likely that any frustration and discontent in 2016 will hurt the Democratic Party, even though the GOP now has much more governing power. In the run-up to the next presidential election, we’ll hear a lot about “Obama’s America,” but the truth is that the Republican Party, and its financial contributors, will have more influence over our lives for the next two years.