The 2012 elections have forced conservatives into the role of a loyal opposition, at least in terms of national policy. With control of just the House, there is little opportunity for conservatives to do more than block the enactment of bad policy. In the states, however, conservatives have never been so ascendent. They are well positioned to begin reforming government in a way that can provide examples for the rest of the country.
In 37 states, one party controls all levers of government; governor and both chambers of the legislature. Republicans, with strong conservative majorities, control 25, the most in history. Democrats control just 12 states, including the failing states of Illinois and California. Justice Brandeis famously observed that states are the “laboratories of democracy.” The nation is about to experience a real-time experiment in conservative and liberal policies.
California and Illinois show no signs of turning away from the tax-and-spend policies that have put them in such dire fiscal shape. Several states, under conservative governance, however, are charting a new course. Wisconsin, which was the birthplace of public unionism, enacted reforms that curtailed the power of union bosses and erased the state’s deficit. Michigan and Indiana, in the heart of the industrial midwest, became the first states in decades to enact right-to-work laws. These laws will not only empower workers to make their own choice about joining a union, they will weaken the ability of union bosses to block future reform.
Several states are moving aggressively to reform their states’ tax systems. VA Gov. Bob McDonnell is proposing scraping that state’s gas tax. Governors in NC, NE and LA are proposing to eliminate entirely their state’s income tax. Other states are looking at a host of reforms across the policy landscape.
These reforms are important, not just for the citizens of these states, but for conservatives and reformers nationally. Each will provide evidence that conservative policies expand freedom and promote economic growth. Each provides another data point we can use to articulate our visions to voters across the country.
You don’t win baseball games on home runs alone. You win by hitting singles and doubles. Rack up more of these than the other team and, generally, you will win the game. The states are where we will get singles and doubles. It is where conservatives should focus their energies and use these fights to reengage and rebuild our grass roots.
2013 is the first year of the conservative resurgence. States will lead the way.