IN LESS THAN TWO YEARS, the governor of Wisconsin has reformed public sector unions so that they can no longer withhold union dues from every worker’s paycheck; ended teacher tenure; required government employee unions to be recertified each year; signed legislation that made Wisconsin the 41st state with “shall issue” concealed carry; cut over $800 million from the state budget; and expanded parental choice in education by removing the 22,500-student cap on the Milwaukee Parental Choice program and extending the program to include the city of Racine. The governor of Louisiana, elected in 2007 and re-elected last year, has helped usher Republican majorities into the state house and senate; signed legislation that gives more than half of the state’s students (380,000 out of 700,000 total) a voucher for the amount the state government spends per pupil; signed a strict ethics law; and moved government worker pensions to a blend of defined contribution and defined benefit.
But Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal are only two of 29 Republican governors. They are only two of 24 Republican governors who enjoy the company of Republican-controlled state legislatures. In theory, in two dozen states for 2011 and most of 2012, if the Republican governor, house speaker, and senate leader could agree on any particular reform, it would be the law of the land now. Why are we not reading about the groundbreaking Reaganite agendas passing in 24 states? Why are we not hearing the howls of the labor union bosses and trial lawyers in two dozen states?
The failed recall effort in Wisconsin has demonstrated that the ice is thick enough for others to follow.Which Republican governor faces a bluer state with a stronger history of public sector unionism? And if the entire labor-union structure could not defeat Walker, it would clearly be overwhelmed if three, six, or 12 governors took it on together. So why are there not more Scott Walkers and Bobby Jindals?
IT IS TRUE that many red states have passed reforms only whispered about in 1980 or 1994. Utah passed legislation that requires every state or local government worker hired after July 1, 2011, to have a defined contribution pension—10 percent of salary (on top of the worker’s pay) automatically put into a 401(k) account (12 percent for police and firemen). There will be no more unfunded liabilities created each time a teacher or fireman is hired. Pension crisis resolved—in one state.
Indiana passed Right to Work, becoming the 23rd state to give workers the right to decide not to join a union. Indiana also expanded school choice (by the third year of the program, there will be no cap on enrollment) and attached a scholarship of $4,500 that each student can take to any school of his choice.
But Alabama’s legislature refused to expand the number of charter schools from the present generous limit of zero. Florida’s legislature refused to pass Paycheck Protection, which would allow workers to opt out of the portion of forcibly collected union dues that are used for politics. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell failed to persuade his legislature to privatize the staterun liquor stores. Conservative Virginia. In South Dakota, the Republicans hold 51 out of 70 seats in the house and 30 out of 35 in the senate. Have you even heard of a Scott Walker/Bobby Jindal-sized reform from South Dakota? They should be passing Reaganite legislation every day with the ease of falling out of bed. Ditto North Dakota, where 69 of 94 House members and 34 of 47 senators are Republican. North Dakota has been in the news for its shale oil and fracking, neither accomplished by the legislature. They did, however, take the Time to vote down defined contribution pension reform.Again, there are 24 states with Republican governors and legislatures. Yet only 11 states have significant parental choice in education; only nine have enacted voter ID laws; only nine have passed tort reform in the past two years; only four have ended tenure; and only one state—Utah—has moved to a full defined-contribution pension system.
THERE ARE THREE DISTINCT PROBLEMS in translating Republican majorities into Reaganite policy reforms. The first are Lincoln Republicans, those nominal Republicans who chose to join the Grand Old Party for the sole reason that their state is located north of the Mason-Dixon line. The state parties of Connecticut, Illinois, and New York are Lincoln Republican parties boldly committed to the Union and opposed to slavery, but a tad flexible on other issues. Western and now Southern states are often more Reaganite, as they have fewer politicians whose party affiliation is inherited tradition.
The converse problem shows up in Southern states, where opportunistic Democrats—who recognize that increasing numbers of their constituents no longer voted based on irritation flowing from Sherman being mean to Atlanta recently—switched parties without changing their habits on spending or quitting their Huey Long–style affection for statism.
And a national problem flows from the quick thinking of the teachers’ unions and trial lawyers, who, from Michigan to Alabama, have begun to lay down early bets on locally elected Republicans, ones who view them as donors and friends rather than obstacles to economic growth and improved education.
Some states, however, have begun the long process of turning nominal Republican majorities into meaningful Reaganite majorities that will consistently and relentlessly drive toward greater liberty.
Rick Perry became governor of Texas when George W. Bush ascended to the presidency in 2001, and he was elected in his own right in 2002, 2006, and 2010.Republicans won control of the Texas house in 2002 and the senate in 2006.
Perry has enacted some tax reform and a voter ID law, strengthened Second Amendment rights, held down spending, and made it transparent online. But his stated top priorities—a hard spending limit and a constitutional requirement that a two-thirds majority is necessary to raise taxes—have been stymied by the house of representatives, where the GOP commands 101 out of 150 total votes. How in the world can a 101 to 48 partisan majority (and one in Texas, for crying out loud) fail to hold down spending and enact Reaganite reforms? In a word, Joe Straus, the “Republican” speaker, who, despite a Reaganite majority in the GOP caucus, has found that he can reward 30 “Republicans” with spending and committee chairmanships and form a coalition with the 48 Democrats. There is now a campaign to replace Straus’ collaborators.
A similar problem shapes the Kansas senate, which is composed of 32 Republicans and only eight Democrats. Yet there are enough Republicans who vote with the Democrats against such GOP staples as lower taxes and spending restraint that Governor Sam Brownback’s agenda has been largely frustrated. (With the exception of a significant income tax cut that the senate Republicans were tricked into voting for, believing it was too radical and the house would never concur.It did.) The foot-dragging of the Republican senate leader Stephen Morris and his “moderates” has gone so far as to turn the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and even the Wichita Chamber of Commerce into Tea Party rebels that demand a purge of the chamber.
They might not have much longer to wait in either state. Five of Straus’s Texas house quislings were defeated in primaries and general elections in 2010, another six have decided to retire ahead of justice, and seven face primary challengers in the 2012 cycle. Governor Perry has broken with “tradition” by supporting many of these insurgents. This long march has been greatly aided by the leadership and stamina of Michael Quinn Sullivan, the president of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and chair of the state’s center-right coalition.
In Texas’ primary on July 31, while the focus was understandably on the Tea Party–driven victory of Senate hopeful Ted Cruz, two of Straus’s committee chairs were defeated, and pro-Straus candidates lost contests for three open seats. It may be possible to elect a true Republican speaker as early as January 2013, in which case Austin will become as famous as Madison, Wisconsin.
Similarly, 12 of Kansas’ tax-and-spend Republican state senators are facing August primaries as this magazine goes to press. Five more primaries are being contested for open seats. A net victory for Reagan Republicans of six seats would give them Reaganite power in the senate, to go along with their strong house and governor. Only if they succeed will Kansas finally be able to respond to the 2004 book praising statism, What’s the Matter with Kansas?: “There is nothing wrong with Kansas—now.”