Monday, February 24, 2014

Colorado, States Mirror Washington D.C. in Polarized Politics

Colorado politics moved hard to the left in 2013, with Democratic state legislators enacting a series of agenda items they felt were long overdue on minority rights, weapons restrictions, and business and environmental regulations. This shift, which produced a political reaction that Democrats are now trying to quell lest they lose their majorities in the 2014 election, is not unique. Colorado, like three-quarters of all the states, is now under unified party control. Single-party dominance is unusual in Colorado, which faced divided control between a Democratic governor and Republican legislature throughout the second half of the 1970s and all of the 1980s and most of the 1990s.

American’s polarized politics has federalized. The states are now as partisanly divided as Washington D.C. This level of single-party dominance (37 states) is at its greatest in a half century. As of today, among states with unified control, Republicans dominate 23 states and Democrats control 14.

Single-party control, when combined with the increased polarization and separate agendas, means less compromise and more legislation proposed and enacted from the extreme end of the parties’ political wish lists. Republican states have been pushing the envelope on abortion restrictions and voter identification laws, and Democrats have antagonized more conservative and non-urban populations with gun control and environmental mandates.

In many single-party controlled states, the dominant party has overreached public opinion and produced a political counter-reaction. In Colorado, legislators were recalled, rural areas threatened secession and Democratic polling numbers collapsed. But, Republican governors and legislators have also faced angry special interests and voters in Wisconsin and Ohio over perceived anti-labor legislation.

If states are the laboratory of democracy, will the cycles of partisan action and reaction create a cadre of new leadership with the skills to manage the polarization toward accomplishment and successful political careers and, if so, will they bring those skills to Washington D.C.?

Washington Post: Red, blue states move in opposite directions in a new era of single-party control
New York Times: After flurry of changes, some states ease up

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