Monday, January 20, 2014

A Big Money Takeover of State Government

I just finished listening to a podcast on Fresh Air about how, largely because of gridlock in Washington, big money is pivoting toward state elections to push big partisan ideas at the state level in hopes that a national consensus can coalesce for eventual national policy change. This makes sense in a couple of ways. First of all, shoring up a monopoly position in specific states allows your party to groom governors for eventual presidential runs. And of course, controlling state government increases the likelihood that the party will be represented by this state in the US Congress.

As national dollars are redirected toward state elections, it's much more difficult for minority parties to win these elections even with better candidates. Further, the party ideology becomes both more entrenched and less accountable through redistricting and gerrymandering techniques.

One reason why I'm posting is that the gay marriage issue is being pushed using this strategy. Look at the respective maps.

From wikipedia, the red states are those states that have constitutional bans on same sex marriage and civil unions (dark red), just same sex marriage (lighter red), or just state statute bands on same sex marriage (still lighter red). The blue are those states that have legalized same sex marriage (dark blue) or have some legal benefits for same sex couples (stripes).

From an article written by the journalist investigating monopoly control of state houses (I couldn't figure out how to download the image, so  you're going to have to just click the link).

You see the color code of the two maps line up almost exactly. Not really surprising. But the problem with these super-majorities at the state level is that while you get some level of state-level experimentation, you get it primarily at the extremes.

Look how many states not only ban gay marriage but also civil unions. Look how many states not only provide some legal benefits for gay couples but went straight to full marriage equality. There's very few states trying more compromised approaches. You'll find similar outcomes on abortion, minimum wage, taxes, voter identification laws, etc.

The problem for me is that the extreme position is almost always wrong and good government almost always comes through compromise and accountability, working in good faith with those who have different points of view from you, recognizing your own very human inability to look at all sides and desperately seeking different points of view to balance out your own biases.

We are increasingly getting none of this. Rather we are learning winner take all political maneuvering where big money institutions wield almost all of the democratic muscle and minority views our bullied out of the conversation.

One way around this, of course, is to use tactics currently at work in Utah on gay marriage. Pushing the issue to the federal courts and assuming you have the courts on your side, you can override the majority. But again, this is possible only when big money national groups funnel money to fund these law suits. And it increases judicial power beyond the bounds of what our founders intended.

I have no solutions to this. Largely it's inevitable. But it saddens me as being someone with a lot of interest in politics, a strong desire to get involved and make a difference, but a shrinking ability to do so.


David G said...

So the LDS church can help Prop 8 pass in California which was a "winner take all" situation and side stepped the 'process', yet you were silent? I seriously doubt the LDS church is open to compromise on this issue. In fact, the court route was probably the only option left for homosexuals in Utah. LDS vs. homosexuals is a case where neither side wishes to compromise. Further, the Constitution is to protect the minority -- not the majority. Just because there are a bunch of LDS in Utah doesn't give them the right to bully non-LDS members there. The courts systems that you bash is actually one of the great aspects of the USA. How you do not understand your bias on this subject baffles me.

tempe turley said...

David, I thought of this example and I agree it's true. The LDS church is a global organization based in Utah and directed resources (primarily volunteer-based resources) to try to influence California law.

The gay marriage movement has a lot of money behind it (as documented by the journalist I linked), so the church saw fit to counter-balance? I don't know, I don't speak for the church.

I disagree that the church would refuse to compromise. In fact a strong majority of Utahns support some sort of legal expansion to gay couples. I think they could get a compromised solution legislatively, but why should they if they can get total victory in the courts?

I'm not bashing the court system. I site it as the only way left for the minority party to overcome state-government monopolies. This is an unfortunate side-effect and consequence of the effect big money is having on the legislative process.

David G said...

I think that the LDS church's idea of compromise is equivalent to "separate but equal" and mostly offensive. On one hand, LDS might be willing to move the ball forward but I think LDS cannot understand how offensive their stance is unless they felt similar treatment. Imagine if all the Christian churches said, "LDS can be a group, but they cannot be an official church or a religion... but will still give them tax breaks." And laws were passed to enforce this. I don't see LDS being happy with such a 'compromise'.

Why should homosexuals settle for a compromise (in this case, less rights) when the highest laws of the land say that they don't have to?

tempe turley said...

David, I agree, if the gay community wins in the court, why compromise?

I understand the tactics. I worry about the precedence this sets and I wish we could settle issues without always having to rely on the courts.