A rein on monolithic power

A rein on monolithic power

November 26th, 2012 in Opinion Times

The notable difference in state and federal elections this year is this: U.S. elections maintained a divided Congress, while state elections let a single party sweep control of the governor's office and both chambers of state Legislatures in a majority of the states. Republicans now hold solid majority reign in 24 states, including Tennessee; Democrats control all the levers of power in 13.

That's the highest number of states under control of one party since 1952. Whether monolithic party control will generate cohesive, constructive legislative agendas is another question. In fact, the results could well be negative.

That's certainly the case in Tennessee. Legislative observers reasonably see some trouble ahead for over-reaching Republicans, who increased their 2010 majorities to official super-majority status mainly through partisan gerrymandering of voting districts following the decennial Census. House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, moreover, reportedly sees the House as being divided among three parties: Tea Party Republicans, traditional Republicans and Democrats.

That should give Tennessee voters and mainstream Republican leaders considerable pause. Though Republicans now hold solid super-majority status -- more than a two-thirds majority in both chambers -- and can fully control the flow and passage of legislation, they will have to show responsible leadership to keep their support. Their Tea Party wing's recent history suggests that will be difficult.

Tea Partiers' reactionary agenda last year focused on anti-social, anti-environmental, anti-intellectual and anti-regulatory policies that would harm Tennessee's environment, economic development, schools, social justice and future strength.

Bills they supported, for example, sought to discriminate against the individual rights of women, religious minorities, legal immigrants and gays. They would harm Tennessee's environmental quality and huge tourism business by allowing more mountain-top removal mining, and dismantling current standards for water and air quality, forest preservation and public safety from nuclear waste. They would expand gun-carry rights to the extreme, even at the loss of existing and prospective businesses that reasonably want to ban guns on the premises of their plants and businesses.

They further oppose Affordable Care Act measures to marginally expand Medicaid/TennCare, and to establish a state insurance exchange that would benefit more than a fifth of uninsured working-age Tennesseans. They also would squeeze spending on K-12 and higher education, even though superior education has become the single largest factor in future business growth. And they would advance the sort of corporate-backed bills from the American Legislative Exchange Council that promote the interests of industry lobbyists and their campaign contributions.

If Tennessee is to keep on track toward a prosperous future, Republican leaders in Nashville will have to temper the reactionary agenda of the Tea Party. They likely would find willing partners among Democrats who rightly see education, environmental integrity and quality of life as the anchors of sound economic development in a competitive global economy.