Just two short years after Barack Obama turned North Carolina blue, Republicans turned it back to red in a big way. Now, the same conservative forces that transformed the Tar Heel State could be coming for Nevada, too.
Electoral wins in 2010 handed Republicans control of the North Carolina Statehouse, Senate and governor’s mansion for the first time since the 1870s, giving them free reign to enact any agenda they had in mind. And boy did they have an agenda in mind. With the help of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has become a factory for churning out uber-conservative legislation beneficial to their corporate sponsors, North Carolina set to work on a shockingly aggressive course.
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Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill blocking the expansion of Medicaid, keeping 500,000 North Carolina citizens from receiving health insurance. The legislature slashed unemployment benefits, despite the fact that the state had one of the country’s highest jobless rates. Lawmakers attached extreme abortion restrictions to a motorcycle safety bill, cut pre-K education for tens of thousands of kids, and decided it was a great idea for guns to be allowed in bars. They cut taxes on the rich and raised them on the poor. Then, to make sure they could hold onto the policy “successes” they’d achieved, they issued strict new regulations on who could vote, and how and when.After looking like one of the most progressive states in the South and moving briefly into the Democratic column in 2008, North Carolina – from a policy perspective – became as red as Mississippi.
After last Tuesday’s election results, we could have a few more North Carolinas. One of the hallmarks of the 2010 Republican wave was the mass GOP takeover, at the state level, of state legislatures and governorships. Last week, I wrote about the consequences that those takeovers had for women and warned that Republicans were poised for even greater gains. And the results are in: Starting next year, Republicans will control more state chambers than they have in modern history. Eleven state legislative chambers flipped from blue to red last Tuesday, and the GOP picked up three governor’s mansions. Republicans have a North Carolina-like situation in 24 states (assuming Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell wins re-election) where they control both branches of state government. Democrats, by contrast, have total control in just seven states.In fact, the blue-ish, swing-ish state of Nevada may be the next North Carolina. Nevada went for President Obama twice and is home to soon-to-be former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It’s a state seen as trending increasingly blue due to a rapidly growing Latino population. But last Tuesday, in an election with the lowest voter turnout in state history, Nevada’s voters gave control of both the state Assembly and the state Senate to Republicans. The governor’s mansion was already in Republican hands. So will Nevada be North Carolina 2.0? So far, the signs aren’t encouraging.
To the great surprise of Nevada political observers, the Nevada Statehouse decided to skip over the more moderate establishment choice for speaker, and selected instead a much more colorful and more doctrinaire option, Assemblyman Ira Hansen. Remember that whole Cliven Bundy episode? Ira Hansen was one of five state legislators who demanded an investigation into the Bureau of Land Management’s actions in attempting to collect overdue fines from the rancher who wondered whether blacks were “better off as slaves.” He joked that people with Alzheimer’s were “Harry Reid supporters.” On immigration, Hansen’s website declares, “Illegal means ILLEGAL. If you broke the law to get here, you should be sent back.” If you’re looking for a voice of moderation, Ira Hansen is probably not your guy.But the other part of why Nevada is likely to look a lot more like North Carolina is because conservatives, despite professing their love for federalism and local control, have rolled out a uniform agenda across the country by deploying cookie-cutter legislation written by organizations like ALEC. That’s why “Stand Your Ground”-type laws have passed in 24 states, why voter ID laws have swept the country, and – while not an ALEC issue – why similar abortion restrictions have passed in state after state.
There’s no reason to think Nevada won’t follow that same pattern. Whether or not this is what Nevadans actually voted for, it is in all likelihood exactly what they’ll get. With Congress indefinitely gridlocked, Democrats must start paying attention to what’s happening at the state level. That’s where the real battle for America’s future is playing out, and so far, very little of it looks good.