For half a century, Democrats dominated state legislatures. Now Republicans do. They control the legislatures in 26 of the nation’s 50 states. And the odds are good that this fall Republicans will build on the major gains they made in 2010. Having control of both the House and Senate in a state of course allows the party in power to push forward its agenda. Democrats are worried. They are already working to boost voter turnout in November, but it’s an uphill battle. A discussion on what Republican control of more state legislatures could mean for environmental, economic and social policies — and how Democrats plan to fight back.

Guests

  • Reid Wilson staff writer, The Washington Post; he writes The Post's new political tipsheet email called "Read In."
  • Alan Ehrenhalt senior editor, Governing magazine.
  • Tim Storey elections analyst, National Conference of State Legislatures.
  • Beth Reinhard national politics reporter, The Wall Street Journal.

Transcript

  • 10:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Republicans have full legislative control in 26 states, and they're in a strong position to extend those gains this November. If this happens, red state legislatures are likely to push a more conservative agenda. Joining me in the studio to talk about the implications for environmental, economic, and social policies, and the growing red state-blue state divide: Reid Wilson of The Washington Post, Beth Reinhard of The Wall Street Journal, and Alan Ehrenhalt of Governing magazine.

  • 10:07:33

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining us by phone from Denver, Tim Storey of the National Conference of State Legislatures. I invite you to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. It's good to have all of you with us.

  • 10:08:01

    MR. REID WILSONThank you.

  • 10:08:01

    MR. ALAN EHRENHALTGood morning.

  • 10:08:01

    MS. BETH REINHARDThank you.

  • 10:08:02

    REHMGood to see you. And, Beth Reinhard, give us a sense of the overall landscape here and how it looks in state legislatures.

  • 10:08:13

    REINHARDSure. Well, like most political reporters in Washington, many of us have been, you know, obsessively covering the Republican efforts to take back the Senate. But in state capitols, there's another very interesting campaign going on. And that is, despite all the gains that Republicans made in 2010 -- it was obviously a wave election. They picked up more than 700 seats around the country, 23 chambers -- there are still a number of legislative chambers, you know, nearly a dozen, that Republicans are in reach of gaining in 2014.

  • 10:08:50

    REINHARDAnd that could have major implications for public policy. As everyone knows, Congress is gridlocked. There's very little activity coming out of Congress. But meanwhile in state capitols, in many cases where you have unified control, you have a Republican governor and a Republican-held legislature, or in some cases -- a smaller number of cases -- a Democratic governor, a Democratic legislature, you have sweeping agendas moving through these legislatures.

  • 10:09:17

    REINHARDIn the red states, you know, expansion of gun rights, abortion restrictions, crackdowns on unions, and in the blue states, you know, gay marriage, expansion of abortion rights, so you have, you know, basically the states kind of pulling apart in direct contrast to what, you know, we remember President Obama saying many years ago about red and blue states blurring the lines.

  • 10:09:44

    REHMAnd trying to create purple states.

  • 10:09:48

    REINHARDRight. We have fewer and fewer of those.

  • 10:09:50

    REHMI should say. Tim Storey, how many states are solidly Republican? How many are solidly Democratic?

  • 10:10:01

    MR. TIM STOREYIt's a really important point to frame, I think, the whole discussion because we're at an era right now of the most sort of divided that we have been in decades. So as of today, just in terms of state governments, if you include the State House, the State Senate, and the governor's mansion, there are 23 states completely where all policy is controlled by the GOP. There are 15 states where the Democrats have control. And only 11 are divided. And what's interesting is coming out of the 2010 election, that number of 11 divided states is the fewest we've seen in -- since the 1950s.

  • 10:10:36

    MR. TIM STOREYSo we are really sort of pushed into the blue camp or the red camp right now. And it does make a tremendous difference. Beth is exactly right. The Republican states have been, you know, acting like Republicans. They have been passing legislation very rapidly to change policies that are more in line with Republican policy objectives, and the Democrats have been doing the same thing.

  • 10:11:01

    REHMAnd...

  • 10:11:02

    STOREYAnd minimum wage is another good one. And environmental legislation, they're just -- you can really go across the board in every policy area.

  • 10:11:09

    REHMAnd where do Republicans have the best chance of gaining ground legislatively in their State legislatures?

  • 10:11:20

    STOREYYeah. I mean, well, there are, of course, 36 governor's races, so those are going to be in play as well. There are over 6,000 legislative seats up across the country. There are 46 states with legislative elections this year. So it's a lot to keep your -- to try to track on election night, as you can imagine. We do that. But the states where the GOP, I think, are really, you know, have targeted -- Colorado was a big one. You know, Colorado's a great state that really pushed out on -- with Democrats in control for the first time in a number of decades.

  • 10:11:53

    STOREYYou know, the -- for about 40, 50 years, Colorado was really a strong Republican state at the state level. But then, just a few years ago, the Democrats took the legislature back, both chambers, won the governor's mansion, which they've now held for two consecutive governors, and they start passing Democratic freely -- more gun control legislation, environmental legislation.

  • 10:12:16

    STOREYSo Republicans would like to take back Colorado. They're looking at the state of Maine, which is a state that has gone back and forth a number of times. They're certainly looking at Iowa, where the Democrats have a narrow majority in the State Senate in Iowa. They're also interested in West Virginia which is sort of maybe the last southern state, you know, depends on which region you put West Virginia in. You know, in 1990, all southern legislatures -- 1992, all southern legislatures were controlled by Democrats. Today, every chamber in the south, with one exception, is controlled by Republicans. So that's the one that they're targeting.

  • 10:12:52

    REHMAll right. And, turning to you, Reid Wilson, what are we seeing in terms of money being spent on these state legislatures?

  • 10:13:04

    WILSONWell, just as money has exploded in federal elections from U.S. Senate to congressional races to the presidential race and all these myriad outside groups, we're seeing that spending sort of trickle down into state legislatures. Just a few years ago -- Tim mentioned the number of southern chambers that had flipped from Democratic to Republican. Just a few years ago, the Koch brothers, Americans for Prosperity, the wealthy libertarian billionaires who spend a lot of money on Republican causes, spent more than a million dollars to try to recapture the Arkansas State House.

  • 10:13:34

    WILSONNow, a million dollars, in the grand scheme of the United States Senate race, might not seem like a lot of money. I mean, a lot of the races that we're going to talk about this year in terms of federal races are going to cost 30, 40, or $50 million. But in a state legislative race, where there are just a few targets, 15 or 20 districts that might flip from one side to the other, where the -- even the incumbents who can raise more money are raising 50- to $100,000. You know, dropping another $100,000 on those particular members is just a mammoth tide.

  • 10:14:07

    WILSONWe're seeing this from the right and the left. There are two organizations, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the Republican State Leadership Council, which deals with state legislatures and attorneys general and secretaries of state and sort of those down-ballot races, are raising more money than ever.

  • 10:14:23

    REHMHmm.

  • 10:14:23

    WILSONAnd they're spending it freely because they're not bound by federal campaign law. They're obviously not spending in federal campaigns. They're spending in state campaigns. They're able to take corporate money. They're able to take unlimited checks. Somebody, whether it's a corporation or an individual, can write them a million-dollar check if they like or a $10 million check if they like. And that money goes into some of these targeted states that Beth pointed out yesterday in The Wall Street Journal.

  • 10:14:49

    WILSONAnd they're going to overwhelm a lot of these incumbents, and, by the way, a lot of the challengers, too. It's not as if the incumbents are completely helpless here. They're going to overwhelm them in elections that, you know, used to cost $100,000, 200 -- maybe $250,000. There was a special election in Washington State recently, a State Senate election, that cost more than $3 million. And about 30,000 people turned out to vote.

  • 10:15:15

    REHMHmm. Interesting. All right. And turning to you, Alan Ehrenhalt, give us some background on this. How is it that Democrats find themselves in this position? How far back do we have to go to sort of figure this out?

  • 10:15:34

    EHRENHALTWell, I think if you go back -- it's useful to go back even half a century to a period in which Democrats were the consistent majority in state legislatures. In a bad year, they would have, say, 52 percent of all the seats. In a good year, they'd be up closer to 60. But the most important thing was that they generated the talent. The Democrats were the party of government in this country, and therefore they were the party of ambitious young people who wanted to accomplish things in government.

  • 10:16:01

    EHRENHALTRepublicans were the party against government, and at a time when candidates essentially announced themselves and promoted themselves. Republicans didn't generate the talent that Democrats did. Democrats really -- it was a supply side system. Democrats had the supply much more than Republicans did. And we're talking about elections for legislatures in which the issued positions of the individual candidates don't matter all that much.

  • 10:16:25

    REHMSo are you taking us back to LBJ and the Voting Rights Act of '64?

  • 10:16:33

    EHRENHALTI would go forward from there until the early '90s and Newt Gingrich and Gingrich's attempt -- successful attempt to take control of the House in Washington. And at the same time, Republicans were getting much better at training candidates. Legislative leaders were selecting them. We didn't have an every candidate for himself or herself system. When we had that in the '70s and '80s, Democrats thrived and prospered.

  • 10:16:57

    EHRENHALTWhen there began to be more money in the system and more control at the senior party levels -- and a sense was built, part by Gingrich and others, that even if you don't like government, there's something to be done in it, even if what you want to do is cut down on government. Republicans didn't use to want to get into government to do that. And in the last 20 years, the major change is they have done that.

  • 10:17:18

    REHMAnd, Reid Wilson, what about redistricting? How does that get factored in here?

  • 10:17:25

    WILSONWell, Republicans won so many seats in 2010. And the census happens every 10 years on the 10. The following year, two years later -- the following election, rather -- the districts are all redrawn. The legislature that's elected in the year ending with zero draws the district for the legislature that will run in the year drawing -- or that ends in two.

  • 10:17:46

    WILSONSo the legislatures that -- the Republican legislatures that won all across the country were able to effectively draw their own districts which means they have now solidified gains in a number of states that they control so that Democrats are going to have an even more difficult time making a comeback. Now, it's not a solely -- solely on the Republican side that this is happening. Democratic legislators do it, too, in states like Illinois and places like that. I'm trying to -- I'm...

  • 10:18:13

    REHMBut they have not been quite as successful. Are they?

  • 10:18:16

    WILSONWell, they were if they control the state. And in a large number of states, where the legislature draws the line or the governor has a significant amount of say, they're able to draw much more compliant lines for their party. That doesn't always happen, though.

  • 10:18:31

    REHMReid Wilson, he's staff writer for The Washington Post. He writes The Post's new political tipsheet email called "Read In." Short break here. When we come back, your calls, your comments. I look forward to hearing from you.

  • 10:20:00

    REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about the changing environment in state legislatures across the country. Currently Republicans have full legislative control in 26 states. They're hoping to extend that majority in the upcoming election. Here with me, Reid Wilson of The Washington Post, Beth Reinhard of The Wall Street Journal, Alan Ehrenhalt. He's senior editor of Governing magazine. And joining us by phone from Denver, Tim Storey. He's an elections analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

  • 10:20:52

    REHMHere's a message for us posted on Facebook from John in Baltimore, Md. who says, "Please inform your panel that of the top donors to the 2012 races, federal and to political parties, Koch Industries ranks 77. There are 22 donors that gave more to Democrats than Koch Industries does to Republican causes or candidates." Reid Wilson.

  • 10:21:31

    WILSONWell, the Koch Network is a fascinating example of how the political finance system has morphed over the last several years. They are able to use a number of different avenues within the internal revenue code, whether it's organizing under Section 501C4 or 501C6. Or -- there are all these sort of complicated avenues to organize. And they can funnel money in between all of their groups.

  • 10:21:55

    WILSONNow we've seen them spend a lot of money on states like Arkansas for state legislative races. They spent a bunch of money on California ballot initiatives. They're spending some money in a couple of Wisconsin counties this year where some county supervisors are trying to block an expansion of a particular business up there.

  • 10:22:14

    WILSONAnd of course there are Democratic groups that are spending just as much, and even more in some cases, depending on how you sort of define Koch Industries versus Americans for Prosperity or the Freedom Partners is one of their new groups. I mean, these new groups sprout up. Every election cycle, there is some new derivation, whether it's in the Koch Industries network or the Democratic side. Their sort of umbrella group is called the Democracy Alliance.

  • 10:22:40

    WILSONThe one thing that is certain is that more money is now spent on American politics than at any other time in our history. Adjust for inflation all you want. The billions of dollars being spent even in this midterm election is going to set all kinds of records.

  • 10:22:53

    REHMBut can anybody verify that what our writer in Baltimore says is true?

  • 10:23:02

    WILSONIt depends on how you define Koch Industries because there are just so many groups under this large umbrella.

  • 10:23:09

    REHMAll right. And here's an email from Andrew who says, "Republicans explain most of their policies on economic arguments. But it seems that, by most measurements, the best state economies are in states that are either majority Democratic or mixed. Why is this observation not being made consistently in the media?" Alan Ehrenhalt, would you agree with this?

  • 10:23:43

    EHRENHALTWell, it's true that many of the states that are doing the best are under Democratic rule.

  • 10:23:48

    REHMGive me an example.

  • 10:23:50

    EHRENHALTWell, I would say Maryland would be one. Virginia would be another just in this area. Some of the states that are going fastest in the south and southwest are under Republican rule. But that tends to be -- they are gaining but they are still not at the top of the list in overall wealth.

  • 10:24:12

    REHMTim Storey, how would you add to that?

  • 10:24:15

    STOREYWell, I mean, Texas is one of the strongest economies in the country, and clearly that's been controlled by Republicans for a number of years. So I don't know that that sort of generalization holds true across all the states. And there are you -- you know, there are struggling state economies in the northwest and Oregon which is, you know, Democratic controlled. So I'm not sure that that works across the board.

  • 10:24:36

    REHMOK. Beth Reinhard, how are we going to see social issues played out in either Republican or Democratically-controlled legislatures?

  • 10:24:51

    REINHARDWell, let's just take abortion as one example. You've seen very little activity as far as abortion is concerned on the federal level. You have a Democratic president who would veto any restrictions. You have a Democratic-held Senate. So very little has happened. There happens to be a bill sponsored by Lindsey Graham in the Senate that would ban abortions after 20 weeks. It's unlikely to go anywhere.

  • 10:25:18

    REINHARDNow flip to the state capitols where you have a flurry really of activity on abortion, including on that very same issue of the 20-week ban. You have I think it's something like a dozen states that have passed those kind of bans. Just since the 2010 wave election where you had so much Republican Party success, you've had more restrictions on abortion passed in just those three years, 2010, 2012 -- excuse me, 2011, 2012, 2013 than the entire previous decade. So, you know, there's very little happening in the abortion debate in Washington but the debate is raging in state capitols.

  • 10:26:02

    REHMWhat about gun control? What about marijuana?

  • 10:26:07

    REINHARDRight. Both of those are happening, and also gay marriage.

  • 10:26:12

    REHMIn the states.

  • 10:26:13

    REINHARDYes, yes. You've seen -- you know, just as quickly as we've seen gay marriage, you know, acceptance passed through this country, we're also seeing that happen very rapidly in terms of medical marijuana and also lower sentences for, you know, smaller time drug users. And gun control, you know, you'll remember that was a priority for the president after Newtown. He campaigned very hard for that. It didn't happen.

  • 10:26:45

    REINHARDBut since Newtown, in state capitols, you have seen a reaction. You've seen the blue states crack down on it. For example, Colorado is one. And then you had sort of a backlash to that. You had two Democratic lawmakers that voted for gun control ousted in a recall. So that debate is still happening in Colorado.

  • 10:27:04

    REINHARDAnd then on the other side in those red states you have -- the reaction to Newtown is sort of the -- is the polar opposite. They say let's have more guns. Let's have people be able to carry them to more places, more access, Easier to get them. So definitely social issues are at play in these state capitols.

  • 10:27:21

    REHMReid.

  • 10:27:22

    WILSONOne of the interesting things that is not at play on a partisan level is the debate over marijuana. Legislatures themselves don't want to touch legalizing marijuana. Remember the two states in which it's legal, Colorado and Washington State, that was passed by voters through a ballot initiative. However, a lot of states are decriminalizing marijuana, reducing marijuana sentences, allowing for medical marijuana.

  • 10:27:46

    WILSONBeth's home state of Florida, entirely controlled by Republicans, has just passed a medical marijuana bill that Gov. Rick Scott is likely to sign. That's -- there's a Republican legislature passing something that we would all think that a Democratic legislature would pass. They've done it too. Along with the sea change of public opinion on gay marriage has come a sea change of opinion on marijuana as well.

  • 10:28:10

    REHMIt was interesting to note that that sea change has come after information that Colorado had raised a billion dollars in taxes in its first three months of sale of that.

  • 10:28:28

    WILSONWell, I don't think it was a billion. I think it was much less. I think it was 14 million or something in just a few months. Somebody else will be able to know this.

  • 10:28:36

    REHMOK. Beth.

  • 10:28:37

    REINHARDYeah. I was going to say, I think that the economics of it haven't escaped the attention of Republicans who are, you know, certainly eager to plug deficits and avoid raising taxes.

  • 10:28:49

    REHMBut there are also some other fights, Reid, the solar industry for example, utilities.

  • 10:28:58

    WILSONThis is a part of the debate that doesn't get a lot of coverage. It doesn't get a lot of attention but it's where some of these outside interest groups that spend so much on these elections have an impact on actual state legislatures. When we're talking about utilities, we're talking about net metering. And this has to do with how much somebody who generates solar power, say on their rooftop with a solar panel gets paid by utility when he or she feeds that power back into the grid.

  • 10:29:23

    WILSONNow the utilities don't want to pay a high price and the solar companies do want that to be a high price because, of course, then they sell more solar panels. But so in states like Arizona and Vermont and Kansas we've seen these debates prop up on net metering. Industry groups that back the utilities have been pushing for lower rates to be paid to solar panel owners. The solar industry is pushing the opposite side. And by and large, the solar industry is winning right now. Both sides are going to spend very heavily in this year's elections.

  • 10:29:55

    REHMTim Storey.

  • 10:29:57

    STOREYYeah, two additional issues that I'd submit and that really are drawing the attention to state governments at a time when Washington is really not doing much of anything, one of the areas where you get a really clear contrast is the minimum wage debate where, of course, there's so much discussion up in Washington. Of course, it's being keyed up as a big election-year issue. The states -- 36 states were considering minimum wage legislation. They held hearings on it. They took it very seriously.

  • 10:30:22

    STOREYFive states have enacted increases in the minimum wage already this session. A number of others will do so before they go out of session here in the next month or two. And many -- of course, many of the state minimum wages are higher than the federal minimum wage, so that's a factor as well. And then on the -- these are in Democratic states -- on the Republican side of things, look at the elections policy and the stricter voter ID laws that have been passed in a number of the Republican-controlled states.

  • 10:30:47

    STOREYSo I think at a time when Washington's just kind of, you know, so -- so cliché and worn out to say that so I almost hate saying it, but it so gridlocked there's no policy actually being made from Washington right now. The states are pushing out on so many different issues like election law and minimum age, immigration, stricter environmental regulation in California and places like that. So it's -- I think that's why these elections are getting so much more attention than they have in the past.

  • 10:31:14

    REHMAbsolutely. Beth.

  • 10:31:16

    REINHARDOne other issue that we haven't talked about is the Affordable Care Act and how you've seen the different in reaction in red states and blue states. You've seen, what is that, about two dozen Republican-led states reject federal money, free money coming from Washington...

  • 10:31:34

    REHMFor Medicaid.

  • 10:31:35

    REINHARD...for -- to expand Medicaid coverage to increase the eligibility requirements. You've seen a few Republicans sort of cross party lines in those cases. But again, you see that pretty stark red-blue divide over the question of the federal government expanding coverage for poor people.

  • 10:31:56

    REHMAlan Ehrenhalt, how much of a difference do you think the Affordable Care Act will make in the minds of voters during those legislative elections?

  • 10:32:09

    EHRENHALTOh, I think quite a bit. It's an iconic issue in which the exact details of who gets what and who has applied for what under the Affordable Care Act mean less than the division of interest that has taken place a couple of years ago and probably is not going to dissolve in time for this fall's election.

  • 10:32:27

    EHRENHALTThere are Republicans who are going to be running for legislatures purely on their opposition of the Affordable Care Act and talking about very little else. And Democrats are trying to figure out where to go to say, no, it's working better than you think. Or, in fact, I too have my problems with it.

  • 10:32:43

    REHMAlan Ehrenhalt of Governing magazine, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." No one has yet mentioned fracking, and I wonder what role fracking might play in these elections, Reid.

  • 10:33:02

    WILSONThe energy boom, whether it's fracking or mining or anything like that, is a huge driver of the political conversation out west. And again, much like marijuana, it's not always a -- strictly divided down partisan lines. Just about every Democratic governor in western states is really eager to go get started fracking because they've seen the economic impact from these booms in the Bakken oil field up in North Dakota where so much money has come in.

  • 10:33:31

    WILSONAnd that can be a big advantage to states, especially in times of economic trouble. Even during this recession, Alaska had such a large revenue because -- such a large rainy-day fund because of its severance taxes, the taxes that it takes on oil coming out of the ground, that it could've operated for more than two consecutive years without taking a single dollar from any of its citizens.

  • 10:33:53

    WILSONSo, you know, Wyoming was in the same position. Their tax structure didn't collapse like other states did because they had that oil and energy tax revenue, Texas, too, Oklahoma. And now a lot of states want to get in on this, states like California. Gov. Jerry Brown, we think of him as the Gov. Moonbeam. He's so incredibly liberal. He's the one who's trying to push new fracking rules in California. We're seeing that in a lot of other states too.

  • 10:34:16

    REHMBeth.

  • 10:34:18

    REINHARDYou know, one state where the control of the legislature could determine that kind of policy is Colorado where Republicans are one seat, just one seat away from controlling the Senate there. Fracking is a huge issue in Colorado, and, you know, people might say -- you might ask somebody, who's your state representative? Who's your state senator? In many cases, they have no idea. You know, they vote in presidential elections. But they pay attention...

  • 10:34:46

    REHMBut that's exactly the point I wanted to get to. What is turnout likely to be, Tim Storey, in these elections?

  • 10:34:56

    STOREYI mean, Beth is exactly -- really hit it on the target because these elections are often nationalized, even though these state issues are so dramatic and have such an impact. And what we find is that the trend of the president's party, the party in the White House, losing seats in legislatures and losing governors is extraordinarily strong.

  • 10:35:16

    STOREYSo over the past 112 years, well over a century, the party in the White House has lost seats to the average of 415 seats in state legislatures every midterm election. That's 28 midterm elections. Only two did the party in the White House gain seats, FDR in 1934 and George Bush in 2002, sort of the wake of the 9/11 attacks. So those were sort of extraordinary circumstances. So the Democrats have a tremendous headwind at the state level going into this election just based on the history of the party in the White House.

  • 10:35:50

    REHMAlan.

  • 10:35:50

    EHRENHALTBeyond the problems that the Democrats have with turnout is -- beyond the problems the incumbent party has with turnout on a historical basis, the Democrats as a party have had trouble in midterms in every recent year except 2006. And this goes back to the early 1990s. And it's for the reasons that we've all talked about. A lot of the presidential year voters simply don't show up at the polls. And a lot of the Democratic tasks this year is to do things that they may be able to do to recapture that turnout and bring it out.

  • 10:36:23

    REHMLike what?

  • 10:36:25

    EHRENHALTOh, like Beth mentioned in her story yesterday, bringing field workers into precincts, old fashioned shoe leather, a lot of which was quite successful for Obama in 2008 and 2012. Democrats are looking for a way to recapture some of that in 2014. It remains to be seen how well they'll do.

  • 10:36:45

    REINHARDIf you look at the groups that traditionally don't turn out in the midterm elections, unmarried women, minorities, young voters, it's some of the issues that are closest to those group's hearts that are really at stake, you know, access to birth control, an abortion, voting rights, immigration, marijuana, all the issues we've been talking about. Those voters that Obama has done so well with presidential years traditionally drop off in the midterms.

  • 10:37:14

    REHMBut the fact of the matter is both sides are going to have to spend a lot of money to get voters to go out and vote on that day. So let's hope there's good voter turnout on both sides. When we come back, we'll open the phones. Stay with us.

  • 10:40:00

    REHMAnd we're back talking about elections in state legislatures around the country. One caller who couldn't stay on the air, Ethan, says, "People don't realize that state Houses control what happens more in our daily lives than national politics. How can we increase voter turnout for local elections?" What would you say, Alan?

  • 10:40:33

    EHRENHALTWell, one way to increase voter turnout is for parties at higher levels to get involved in electing candidates to legislatures. People don't know enough, by and large, about the state legislative candidates to make decisions on the positions those people have taken. They tend -- if they've met the person -- that's why active campaigning, which the Democrats used to be so good about, was so successful.

  • 10:41:00

    EHRENHALTAnd, more recently, money the Republicans have put into these elections and then simple party-line voting. You have a lot of people in this country that are going to vote Republican this November because of the Affordable Care Act. And no additional facts are likely to penetrate. So I think that, of all the levels of government, federal, state and local, the one in which voting is conducted into the greatest climate of ignorance is state, is legislative.

  • 10:41:24

    REHMInteresting. All right. Let's open the phones to Natalie, in Waxahachie, Texas. You're on the air, Natalie. Go right ahead.

  • 10:41:36

    NATALIEGood morning there. I've been listening intently, and first thing I want to say is that the -- of all the topics you have touched on, I think probably, you know, 89 percent of them are -- got the Koch brothers involved in what's going on, such as the solar panel business where the Koch brothers are working against people getting credit for solar panels, et cetera, et cetera. And that's one thing that I think the public needs to be more aware of. They might actually get to pay attention.

  • 10:42:12

    NATALIEAnd the other is ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, where this is why you see identical bills popping up all over the place, like the Stand Your Ground bill, was one of those, and the birth control bills. And I won't bore you with all of the details of it because there's limited time, but the power of these Koch brothers, who I think are involved in starting ALEC, but I can't prove that.

  • 10:42:43

    REHMAll right. Go ahead, Reid.

  • 10:42:45

    WILSONWell, we've mentioned a few examples that have the Koch brothers or their various industries involved, but as Alan has said, as Beth has said, as Tim has said, there's so many other issues that are happening in state legislatures and not happening in Washington, D.C. I mean, here we sit in the Beltway where there's gridlock. And just outside the Beltway in Richmond, Va. or Annapolis, Md., there's so much happening, whether it's on abortion laws or gay rights or marijuana decriminalization or Medicaid expansion, anything like that.

  • 10:43:15

    WILSONIt's not just -- it's not as if this entire legislative agenda is being led by the Koch brothers. Democrats are doing one thing. Republicans are doing the other. You know, Beth referenced earlier the President Obama, then state Sen. Obama's speech in 2004, where he said there are no red states, there are no blue states, there are only the United States. Well, actually there are red states and there are blue states, and they're pursuing very different courses on all of these different legislation.

  • 10:43:39

    REINHARDJust one other note on the Koch brothers. You know, it's interesting, Senate majority leader Harry Reid has now made it his part-time job to make, you know, everyone aware of the Koch brothers influence. But in our recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, we found very few people actually know who the Koch brothers are. So, you know, this strategy amongst some Democrats to sort of make them in a boogey man this election cycle may not have the impact they hoped.

  • 10:44:06

    REHMAll right. Let's go to Bill in Chicago, Ill. You're on the air.

  • 10:44:15

    BILLYes, thank you. Great show, like always.

  • 10:44:16

    REHMThanks.

  • 10:44:16

    BILLI just wanted to point out, one of your guests referred to the money for the expansion of the Affordable Care Act as free money. First of all, there is no such thing as free money. And that's where the state legislatures are getting involved because their fear, like a lot of former government programs, is there's federal money promised that then dries up and then the states are on the hook to pay for it.

  • 10:44:36

    BILLSo, again, just kind of reminding that there is no such as free money in American politics. And that there always is a price and that ultimately the states are usually the ones left trying to figure out where to come up with the money.

  • 10:44:47

    REHMAll right. Reid?

  • 10:44:49

    WILSONThis is fascinating. The Affordable Care Act mandates that this money comes in the form of new taxes to expand Medicaid. So residents of these 19 states that have not accepted Medicaid expansion are paying the money. They're paying it to the federal government. If they decided to expand Medicaid over the next three years, which the federal government will pay 100 percent of that expansion, they'll get that money back.

  • 10:45:09

    WILSONIn a lot of states, in a lot Republican states, where the Affordable Care Act is not something that they want to talk about, not something they want to deal with. In fact, they want to run against it. They are, in fact, starting to take Medicaid expansion, they're just calling it something else. So in Arkansas, where Republicans control the state legislature…

  • 10:45:26

    REHMInteresting.

  • 10:45:26

    WILSON…they're calling it the Private Option, and they're funneling that money through private companies that then expand that. In New Hampshire, the Republican State Senate agreed with the Democratic State House to accept Medicaid expansion for just that window of period when it's paid for 100 percent by the federal government and not for any period after that. Virginia Republicans and Democrats are debating doing the same thing. So they're not calling it Medicaid expansion, but a lot of Republicans are actually embracing that kind of money.

  • 10:45:55

    REHMAlan?

  • 10:45:55

    EHRENHALTI just want to make the point that even though the federal government is committed to paying 10 percent of the Medicaid expansion after three years, and theoretically could pull the plug on that money at any point after that, politically that would be very difficult. I think to say that that money is going to disappear at some point due to federal austerity, I think that's a stretch.

  • 10:46:18

    REHMAren't you being optimistic?

  • 10:46:22

    EHRENHALTNo. I'm just recognizing the difficulty that governments have in repealing legislation which is benefitting…

  • 10:46:29

    REHMBut isn't it the fact that the states are, at that point, supposed to take over?

  • 10:46:37

    EHRENHALTWell, the federal government is still going to be providing 90 percent of the Medicaid expansion money after three years. I think getting rid of that is going to be very difficult for either party.

  • 10:46:47

    REHMOK. I want to correct something I said earlier. Bloomberg and others reported a few days ago that Colorado officials are scaling back estimates that their state's retail marijuana industry would reap one billion in sales in the coming fiscal year. Colorado collected about 4.2 million in sales and excise taxes on recreational marijuana in the two-month period. So now, let's go back to the phone to Tim, in Nappanee, Ind. Hi, you're on the air, Tim.

  • 10:47:36

    TIMYes. Good morning. I got a comment to make. It's just like yesterday when they had the prayers in the local places and things like that. Do you think the Supreme Court and some of the other judicial systems is kind of making the laws instead of our legislatures, citizens?

  • 10:48:08

    WILSONWell, it's certain that there's more money being spent in legislative races than -- in judicial races, I'm sorry, than in other -- then in previous years. We've seen an explosion of money in those races, too. Just recently the Republican State Legislative Committee, which, again, deals with state legislative races and statewide races…

  • 10:48:26

    REHMRight.

  • 10:48:26

    WILSON…said that they would start spending money on targeted judicial races. Already they've spent about $650,000 against a North Carolina Supreme Court justice. You might remember that a few years ago in Iowa, after the Iowa Supreme Court said that the state had to allow same-sex marriages, a number of social conservatives gathered a bunch of money together to force the recall of three judicial officials. So, just like legislatures, just like the federal races themselves, we're seeing more money in judicial races, too.

  • 10:48:56

    REHMBut you recently reported on Republican efforts to back ideologically conservative forces, voices on the courts.

  • 10:49:10

    WILSONExactly. And this is what we're seeing in this Republican State legislative effort, is they want to back like-minded people for judgeships. Now, judicial candidates aren't allowed to explicitly talk about what they believe in or whatnot.

  • 10:49:25

    REHMRight.

  • 10:49:25

    WILSONBut if you're a candidate seeking the endorsement of the State Democratic Party you probably believe in one thing, and if you're seeking the endorsement of the Chamber of Commerce, you probably believe something else.

  • 10:49:35

    REHMTim Storey, what's happening in the gubernatorial races around the country?

  • 10:49:41

    STOREYWell, it starts out with the Republicans in a very good position. They control 29 of the governors' mansions and Democrats only control 21. So there, again, and this is one of the challenges for Republicans this year. They're at a kind of a high-water mark. You know, the Democrats controlled legislatures and states, by and large, for about 50 years, from the 1950s up until, as Alan said earlier, in the 1994 range. So there are many competitive governors' races this time around. And, of course, that's a whole other show for you, I think, Diane. Can I just jump back for a second…

  • 10:50:13

    REHMSure.

  • 10:50:13

    STOREY…to the beginning of the segment?

  • 10:50:14

    REHMSure.

  • 10:50:14

    STOREYWhen you asked about voter turnout, one thing I would like to submit, that there's been a very well-documented decline in State House coverage by the media. Part of that's linked to the changing nature of the media, you know, the capital newspapers just have cut back those bureaus. The Pew Charitable Trust, Columbia Journalism View, have really done some great research on the declining coverage of state government.

  • 10:50:36

    STOREYSo we know these are really important issues, and I think that's one thing that's going to turn it around. I think some of the blogs and some of these other outlets are doing a better job. I'm delighted that The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post have opened up new channels to cover this. Of course, NPR, I think, has always done a good job, frankly. And your show is a good sign that they're doing that.

  • 10:50:54

    STOREYBut that's going to help the turnout, when more people appreciate, through the media channels, the importance of these elections. I think that's going to have an impact. And what we've seen is it's actually gone down fairly significantly.

  • 10:51:06

    REHMBeth?

  • 10:51:06

    REINHARDI was just going to add on governors' races, that's really the one sort of bright spot of hope for the Democratic Party in this midterm. I mean, they're feeling, you know, on the defensive in protecting their majority in the Senate, they're on the defensive in these state legislative races, but in governors' races there are nine Republican governors in states that President Obama won. So these are, you know, swing states. These are battleground states that went red in 2010, but they have been blue in 2012 and 2008. So Democrats are hopeful they're going to pick up some of those seats.

  • 10:51:39

    REHMAlan, this goes back to your point of getting out these voters.

  • 10:51:44

    EHRENHALTWell, I think that's crucial. And it's especially crucial if Democrats want to win these governorships. If they want to take back Pennsylvania, if they want to take back Florida and some of the crucial states where they have a chance, they have to do a lot of work on turnout.

  • 10:51:58

    REHMAll right. To Martha, in Denver, Colo. Hi, there.

  • 10:52:05

    MARTHA…your show, Diane.

  • 10:52:07

    REHMThank you.

  • 10:52:08

    MARTHAI've listened to you. I've followed you. I'll move wherever you go.

  • 10:52:13

    REHMI'm right here.

  • 10:52:15

    MARTHASo I have been enjoying this panel, and I've got another Michael Bloomberg question. Publicly saying that he was going to take on gerrymandering -- and just a question to the panel, maybe especially Tim Storey with his great insights -- what impact can an individual have? And what are states already doing to make redistricting less of a political route in either direction?

  • 10:52:40

    REHMWhat do you think?

  • 10:52:43

    STOREYWell, as Reid knows, I was the redistricting coordinator for NCSL for about 20 or 25 years, so I've been steeped in the redistricting world for a long time. About every decade one or two states changes their redistricting process. It is a glacial pace of change in how lines are drawn. So I think as individuals, you know, that's going to happen in the legislative process, so control these legislative elections is going to have an impact on the redistricting process.

  • 10:53:11

    STOREYThere are 11 states that use some kind of border commission to draw their legislative lines. And in the rest of the states it's done through the traditional legislative process. It's very partisan, very political. And I think, as Reid pointed out earlier, the Democrats will take advantage of that where they have control. Republicans will take advantage of that where they have control. It's absolutely a major factor in this election, particularly in these legislative states.

  • 10:53:32

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Alan, how much do you think Republican-anticipated gains are going to come from anti-Obama sentiments? And how much in regard to some of the issues we've talked about?

  • 10:53:56

    EHRENHALTWell, I think a lot would be true in both cases. There are a lot of Republicans who are motivated to come out and run because of the Affordable Care Act, the other issues that we've mentioned. I'd also make the more general point that there are times of possibility in American politics, when one party believes that it can accomplish important things by getting its people elected. Republicans are in a cycle of possibility right now. Democrats are not.

  • 10:54:23

    EHRENHALTI mean, Democrats have reason to be discouraged in most places, not including some blue states, and certainly at the federal level, as to what they really might accomplish. And that tends to affect who comes out and runs, and, as I've said for a long time, in these legislative elections, it's the supply that tends to create the result more than the demand.

  • 10:54:42

    REHMAnd what are Democratic leaders telling you, Beth, about what's coming up and what they're doing?

  • 10:54:50

    REINHARDWell, they're nervous about the drop-off in midterm elections. And so they're, you know, taking their cue from Obama and trying to boost turnout and in the field with massive, you know, grassroots field operations. They're beefing those up. You see that by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and you're also seeing that on the DLCC, which is on the state level. They're putting twice as many field operatives out there as they did a couple years ago because their belief is that if they are able to boost turnout, that they can hold back some of these Republican gains.

  • 10:55:28

    REHMSo finally, Tim Storey, very briefly, what is typical voter turnout for state legislative races?

  • 10:55:40

    STOREYThe truth is, Diane, I don't know the exact number. Of course it tracks the national number. It goes down substantially in these midterm elections. And it makes the shoe leather part of the job that much harder. You've got to knock on doors. You can still win legislative elections by knocking on doors.

  • 10:55:55

    REHMAnd do you think the red state-blue state divide is going to stay right where it is, Reid?

  • 10:56:02

    WILSONAs a matter of fact, I think it's gotten worse in the last several decades. Just a few years ago, we had Democratic governors of Oklahoma and Wyoming, Republican governors of Massachusetts, a guy named Mitt Romney, and Vermont and Rhode Island and places like that. State legislative chambers in the South were Democratic and the West were Republican. Now, we're seeing more of the partisanship we've got here in D.C., filtering down to that state level. Those kinds of differences are very rare now.

  • 10:56:31

    REHMWell, I hope our discussion encourages people to get out and vote no matter which party they're voting for or for whom. Learn the facts, get out there and vote. Reid Wilson, Beth Reinhard, Alan Ehrenhalt and Tim Storey, thank you all so much. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

  • 10:56:58

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Denise Couture, Susan Casey Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn, Danielle Knight, and Alison Brody. The engineer is Toby Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts and podcasts. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is drshow@wamu.org, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.

Related Links

Topics + Tags

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows