The American media loves to report on Presidential elections. From e-mail scandals to birth certificates, West Point admissions to unfathomable hairstyles, the American media will stop at nothing to run another sound bite or story on Presidential elections, even when primary season is in its infancy. Senate, congressional, and gubernatorial races receive less coverage from the national press, but they do not go unnoticed. Arguably the most important elections in America, however, receive little to no coverage and hardly any scrutiny from national and even local press. While the Democratic Party can hold its own at the national level (winning the last two Presidential elections – thank you, Obama), it has struggled mightily in the elections with the most direct impact on local populations – state legislative races. These are the “sausage factories” that create legislation most likely to affect the everyday lives of American citizens (think abortion, gun control, environmental legislation). Very few sources in the media have recognized the significant disparity between Democrats and Republicans in the representation of State Legislatures.
In defiance of the norm, two notable media personalities recently ran segments on state legislatures: John Oliver and Chuck Todd. Oliver comically compared the unproductivity of Congress with its efficient and effective state legislature counterparts. Todd analyzed how poorly Democratic state legislators have done in elections while the Obama administration has been in power. Rachel Maddow astutely pointed out how heavily and covertly the Republican Party invested at the state level. The national and even local media ignored many of these victories. And that is exactly what the Republicans wanted. By not vocalizing their state-level strategy and slowly compiling victories, almost nobody bothered to look at the numbers in the aggregate. Once people like Oliver and Todd started doing the math they came to one conclusion – Democrats are getting smoked in almost every state.
As of the writing of this article, Republicans are governing in 31 states, they have full party control (i.e., they control both houses) in 23 states, and they control at least one legislative body (either the house or senate) in 19 states. You do the math – Democrats are in control of only a handful of states. See https://www.multistate.com/state-resources/governors-legislatures.
You may be asking why we should care about a huge disparity at the state level – they don’t pass federal legislation, right? While that may be true, states have always played an important role in American politics. They serve as laboratories of democracy. After all, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” See the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Everything from the minimum wage to marijuana legalization has started with state legislatures or municipalities. States continue to challenge abortion legislation, environmental laws, and the freedom to practice one’s religion. Back in the 1950s and 60s, states passed legislation to legalize and enforce racial segregation, and municipalities enforced racial restrictive covenants in deeds. States legislatures possess an extraordinary ability to impact and affect the daily lives of everyday people.
The national media needs to open its eyes to what’s actually going on politically in America. While the Republicans cannot produce a viable candidate at the national level, they have run circles around Democrats locally. Yet nobody ever hears of these triumphs. Aside from the few who highlight the disparities in representation (e.g., Oliver and Todd), the mainstream media generally focuses on the big personalities and big races – the Trumps, Clintons, Bushes, and Obamas of the world. Even though these “big” races often end in only a handful of legislative accomplishments (Obamacare and . . . ), the drama attracts viewers and sells advertising. Unfortunately, this approach leaves the American public generally ignorant to what’s really going on in their local communities; the very communities that are impacted by legislation that affects their neighbors, friends, and family.