State legislative sessions around the country are coming to an end.
Thankfully, I should add.
Many state legislatures have become increasingly dominated by Republican majorities or, like in the case of Tennessee, a super-majority.
Now, the other side of the aisle controls 56 percent of state seats nationally, the highest in nearly a hundred years.
Republican dominance in state assemblies happened almost overnight.
In the vast majority of cases, state legislatures flipped in the last eight years.
Overall, Republicans control 68 of 99 chambers nationwide. In the run-up to the 2010 election, a mere six years ago, the exact opposite was true. Democrats controlled 62 of 99 chambers.
In 2008, Democrats lost their 150-year hold as the dominant state party in Tennessee.
In Tennessee, Republicans currently hold 101 of 132 assembly seats.
Based strictly on the number of seats held, Tennessee, the state that gave the country Al Gore, is significantly more conservative than Texas, the state that gave us Ted Cruz.
Right now, thirty state legislatures are Republican controlled and in twenty-two Republicans hold a super-majority.
They did it by winning a few elections, which led to increased fundraising. With increased resources, they won a few more victories, which further increased fundraising and eventually led to slim majorities in many state assemblies.
With slim majorities, Republicans came to dominate fundraising and, more importantly, took charge of drawing electoral maps.
Unfortunately, as Republicans have increasingly dominated state legislatures, those same legislatures have given up talking about how to address issues that are broadly impactful.
The politics in the newly gerrymandered conservative districts focuses almost exclusively on pending primaries and out-flanking potential rivals.
When it comes to policy-making, Republican office-holders at the state level have tended to forgo issues that have broad appeal.
Instead, they focus on a small number of hot-button issues that motivate a smaller number of partisans, like guns, bathrooms, birth certificates, and Syrians.
Candidate favorability is out. Issue intensity is in.
Thus, these days in state assemblies, like Tennessee’s, there’s no attempt to win the argument.
It’s winning by dividing and conquering.
The opinions of the majority take a back seat to the preferences of a small but vocal minority.
In Tennessee, for instance, the legislature could have implemented a state-level program to provide healthcare coverage to working poor and veterans across the state, called Insure Tennessee. The program would have had broad impact across the state and was widely and wildly supported by the public.
What’s more, Insure Tennessee wouldn’t have cost our state a single Harriet.
Problem is, someone in the Tennessee legislature shouted “Obamacare” or “fire” or something and, poof, the program wasn’t even debated.
Instead, legislative time under super-majorities around the country is frequently spent debating issues that generate unnecessary controversy, create division or, at best, only appeal to a very tiny minority of the electorate.
In Tennessee, the legislature debated whether or not to make the Bible the official state book. That debate gave scores of Tennessee legislators a chance to burnish credentials by citing (from memory, of course) various Bible verses.
The legislature worked hard on a bill designed to teach our flagship state institution, the University of Tennessee, a lesson about diversity by cutting the funding for the school’s diversity office.
That’ll show them.
We permanently shuttered the Economic Council on Women, because as the lead opponent of the office has put it, “why don’t we have a men’s economic council?”
And we passed a bill that gave counselors the right to turn away patients based on the counselors’ “sincerely held principles,” a Trojan horse to introduce the idea of denying services to the LGBT community.
We can’t be outdone by neighboring states, like North Carolina and Mississippi, which had also debated similar denial-of-services bills.
It’s summer and dandelions are back. Pick one up, blow the seeds, and make a wish.
If you’re like me, you’ll wish state lawmakers, next time around, keep their heads down, do the un-sexy work of policy making and solving problems that are relevant to their constituents.