Then there’s Alabama.
For generations, our distinctly Southern state was an undisputed haven for Democratic candidates. Gradual changes altered the landscape in Montgomery to the point that today the governor is a Republican and the GOP controls the state Legislature. By and large, Democratic candidates for state and local offices in Alabama face uphill battles on Election Day simply because of the “D” beside their name. Through party-switching and election returns, finding an elected Democrat in Calhoun County gets harder each year.
Look no further than the November elections for proof — both in Alabama and across the nation.
In this sense, Alabama’s one-party rule mimics a wide majority of the other states. The Brennan Center for Justice in New York recently published a study of the nation’s 50 state legislatures. Its research found that only three states — Iowa, Kentucky and New Hampshire — have two chambers dominated by differing parties.
November’s elections increased the number of states whose chambers are controlled by one party to an eye-popping 47. (Seven more states joined that total last month: Maine, New York, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arkansas, Colorado and Oregon.) What’s more, there are 32 states in which one party controls the state Senate, House and governor’s office. Sounds familiar.
Politics can be cyclical — what’s en vogue today may be out of style in following terms — but this proliferation of one-party domination, regardless of which party does the dominating, is a disconcerting trend.
As the Brennan Center wrote, “Single-party control with limited opportunities for true accountability in elections is not the recipe for responsive government.”
Recent history illustrates that it is too easy for one-party states to birth laws that need further bipartisan debate before they’re put up for vote in chambers thoroughly dominated by a single party. Alabama’s strict voter-ID law and illegal-immigration law are two homegrown examples: the first will be a burden for low-income Alabamians when it takes effect, the second is both unnecessary and mean-spirited.
“State legislatures increasingly hold the keys to the civil rights of America’s citizens,” Brennan wrote. “Voting, reproductive freedoms, economic rights, the right to carry firearms and other individual rights — with the exception of free speech — have more and more been the subject of federal court deference to the states.”
This increasing polarization of American politics, with seemingly little room for compromise or teamwork between people of opposing views, is entrenched in Washington and our state capitals. Those who embrace democratic politics with a more balanced representation can’t be happy about it.