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Five Thirty Eight: All Politics is National

At FiveThirtyEight, Craig Fehrman writes about the increased polarization of state politics.

In 2016, then, the most interesting thing about our state politics is how these two strands, the everyday and the ideological, intersect. State politicians are becoming more partisan and more polarized, much like national politicians. But this party-driven approach isn’t just influencing left-right issues like abortion or guns. It’s spreading through every part of state government, with surprising and potentially troubling results. It’s why Fairview’s water pipes haven’t been fixed — for reasons that have little to do with water, oil or even Montana itself.

State legislatures are often ignored by the media (though certainly not by VPR). Many citizens treat their vote on state representatives as a referendum on the national parties, rather than on the merits of the candidate. I’ve been guilty of this – it’s easy to get caught up in national politics and not leave enough time to research local candidates. But these races matter.

Republican obstructionism has taken hold of state legislatures as much as it has Congress. In Montana, infrastructure projects (like water pipe maintenance) have been repeatedly blocked by the blanket refusal of a faction of state Republican party refusing to compromise with the Democratic governor.

The Republican Party has a hell of a ground game in state legislatures. Among other things, they’ve waged war against voting rights under the guise of fighting voter fraud. Voter fraud is not a thing, but – even if it was – voter suppression does far more to skew representation1. That’s just one issue where the states play a critical role.

I spent my morning reading up on my state’s government and getting ready to get more involved. Please consider doing the same.

  1. Those crying “voter fraud” are not acting in good faith, but deliberately seeking to disenfranchise minority voters. But I’m linking to Allen Downey’s argument here because I think it could be effective with people who:

    • have been convinced by fear-mongering that voter fraud is actually a problem
    • would not support intentionally suppressing minority vote
    • would react badly to the accusation that voter ID laws are racist