A Different America: How Republicans Hold Nearly Full Control in 23 US States | American politics
reDemocrats across the United States cheered last month, as Texas lawmakers staged a State House walkout to block passage of a Republican bill that would enact a number of restrictions on access to voting.
But the victory seemed short-lived, as the state’s Republican Governor Greg Abbott was quick to announce that he was planning to call a special session to pass the legislation.
The walkout and the only temporary relief it offers Democrats demonstrated the immense legislative power that Republicans have in dozens of states across the country and the ability that gives them the ability to embrace a far-right agenda on a wide range of issues ranging from abortion to the possibility of voting.
In 23 US states, Republicans hold governorship and legislature, giving the party near-total control in advancing its policies. This year, Republicans have used that power to aggressively advance their conservative social agenda – aimed at abortion access, transgender rights and gun safety, as well as voting laws.
During the Texas legislative session, which ended late last month, Republicans approved bills to allow the carrying of firearms without a license, ban abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy and increase criminal penalties for protesters blocking intersections.
“From day one of this session, our priorities were centered on hardworking Texans and building a safer, freer, healthier and more prosperous state,” Abbott said in a statement after. the session. “We kept those promises while hosting one of the most conservative legislative sessions our state has ever seen.”
Texas is far from the only one.
Three other states – South Carolina, Idaho and Oklahoma – recently passed similar abortion laws, and several states also approved unlicensed porting this year. Although Texas Republicans failed to pass their anti-trans bills in the regular session, 2021 marked a banner year for anti-trans legislation, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
This trend for states to pass increasingly extreme laws on issues such as abortion and transgender rights worries Democrats, who accuse Republicans of using their legislative power to target vulnerable communities.
“Republicans attacked everyone in this state during this legislative session,” said Rose Clouston, director of voter protection for the Texas Democratic Party. “They came after women’s health. They came after the trans Texans. They came after voting rights in black and brown communities and the disability community. They were really attacking every community in this state in a brazen attempt to cling to their power. “
The focus by Republican lawmakers on social issues marks a shift from previous decades, when the party was more focused on economic priorities such as small government and fiscal responsibility.
There are a few notable exceptions to this trend. At least 25 states, all led by Republican governors, have decided to prematurely end the additional unemployment benefits included in the coronavirus relief program that Joe Biden enacted in March. However, Republican lawmakers appear to have focused most of their efforts this year on addressing the cultural concerns of their supporters.
“The grassroots are more interested in culture than economics right now, and that’s what state legislatures are reacting to,” said Henry Olsen, senior researcher at the Center for Ethics and Public Policy , a conservative think tank.
Olsen also noted that Republicans are unable to advance their agenda at the federal level at this time, as Democrats control the White House and both houses of Congress. State legislatures provide more opportunities for Republican lawmakers to adopt conservative policies and push back Democrats.
“The Democratic victories at the national level made them feel threatened, so I think they are using the power they have to declare the values they share,” Olsen said.
But outside of Washington, Democratic lawmakers in Republican-led states don’t have many options to prevent conservative social policies from becoming law. Despite optimistic projections, Democrats failed to overthrow any state legislature in last year’s election.
The Democrats’ losses mean they won’t have much to say in how electoral districts are delineated as those states prepare for the ten-year redistribution process. Republicans in states like Texas will be able to draw friendly cards that could facilitate re-election.
Rather than worrying about their general election runs, Republican lawmakers appear to be more afraid of attracting key challengers who are more to the right on issues such as gun rights.
In Texas, for example, Allen West, a former National Rifle Association board member who lobbied for unlicensed transportation in the state, said he was considering launching a main challenge against Abbott. The Republican governor will be re-elected next year.
“We know the GOP is afraid of primaries from fringe gun extremists,” said Shannon Watts, founder of gun control group Moms Demand Action. “We watch politics unfold as opposed to real political beliefs. “
This political calculation has pushed state laws so far to the right that in some cases even Republicans criticize new policies. In Tennessee, which Donald Trump won by 23 points in November, a recent poll found that 59% of voters oppose the unlicensed porterage bill enacted in April.
The laws on portering without a license have also encountered opposition from law enforcement groups, who argue that the policy will lead to more violence and more 911 calls, resulting in slower response times.
“They’re trying to score political points, and at the end of the day all they do is undermine law enforcement and make public safety law enforcement really more difficult,” Watts said. .
The business community has also spoken out against some of the bills passed by Republican-led legislatures. More than 90 major American companies have signed a declaration oppose anti-trans bills introduced in dozens of states.
And yet states have continued to approve anti-trans legislation, with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signing a bill earlier this month that will ban transgender girls from playing on women’s sports teams in schools.
The resolve of Republican lawmakers to ignore public and business criticism of their policies has intensified Democrats’ calls for national laws to address these issues.
On voting rights in particular, Democrats say the restrictions Republicans approved underscore the need to pass the For the People Act, a sweeping electoral reform bill that has stalled in the Senate.
“The Republicans in Texas have shown that they are going to use their power to deprive Texans of the right to vote and to maintain their power,” Clouston said. “We need the federal government to set these minimum standards for what a democracy looks like in the United States of America and take action.”