With the federal government in charge of most everything these days and incessantly trying to gather more into its grasp, it is easy to forget that the states still have quite a role to play. With the election, in 2010, of a crop of new conservative Republican governors and more than 650 conservative Republican state legislators, some of the best schemes to thwart federal power are coming out of the state capitals.
Virginia and New Jersey led the way in 2009 with the election of Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie, followed by the election of 18 Republican governors in 2010, giving Republicans control of 29 of those offices. Fully 21 of those states are really red — Republicans control both houses of the legislatures. And the really blue states? Only eight.
The better news, for conservatives, is that these new governors are a talented, tough, and gutsy lot and well to the right of center. The province of the states has been under assault by Congress since World War II, made worse by the fact that the Supreme Court, in virtually every case involving state versus federal power, at least until the last few years, ruled for the feds. The new governors are determined to get some of that power back.
Health care, public employee unions, offshore drilling, and pension reform are just some of the issues that the governors have taken on — all issues that fly in the face of state sovereignty and that are at the center of the Obama agenda.
The question of federalism was the great debate at the Constitutional Convention — what role would the states play, what would the federal government be responsible for, and how would the two balance themselves out? Anti-Federalists, led by firebrand Patrick Henry, opposed ratification because, they argued, as written, the Constitution did not provide sufficient protection to the states from federal intrusion. Patrick Henry would be appalled if he could see what happened, and would certainly enjoy telling us “I told you so.”
These new governors are also budget hawks. While Democrats in Washington spend money like water and have increased the national debt by $5 trillion in two and a half years, Virginia’s governor turned a $6 billion budget shortfall into two successive years of budget surpluses. Scott Walker in Wisconsin was sworn in with a $3.6 billion deficit that he turned into a $300 million surplus. John Kasich in Ohio, Rick Snyder in Michigan, and Florida’s Rick Scott have done the same thing, all without raising taxes by a nickel.
Look ahead to November 2012 and these governors could make or break a Republican presidential nominee. Governors make a big difference in presidential and Senate elections — a sitting governor can raise big money, influence turnout, and, according to political experts, is worth two points to a nominee. Four Rust Belt states crucial to a Republican win — Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — are all controlled by newly elected conservative Republicans and together have one-quarter of the 270 electoral votes the Obama challenger will need to win. And each of those four states has either an open or Democrat-held Senate seat up for grabs.
California, Illinois, and New York all have newly elected liberal Democratic governors, three of the largest deficits in the country, and are ranked by Chief Executive magazine as the three worst states to do business in. They’re not blue states for nothing.