News & Politics

GOP's Frightening Plot to Build Laboratories for Plutocracy in States They Control

Right-wing initiatives such as tax cuts and 'right-to-work' legislation are on the table.

In the American political tradition, states are known as “laboratories of democracy,” miniature examples for the rest of the country to learn from. Following the 2014 elections, Republicans gained more power in state legislatures than they've had in their party's history, controlling 69 of the 99 different state chambers across the country.

With these wide majorities, these Republicans are using these laboratories to put into action some of their wildest plutocratic legislative dreams, everything from enacting discriminatory legislation against gay and lesbian Americans to assaulting the rights of workers, to clawing back laws at every level that protect the public interest.

Bigotry In The Name Of Religious Freedom

Last year, Republicans introduced a flurry of “religious freedom” bills designed to legalize the ability of businesses to discriminate; for example, a diner refusing to serve a gay couple. Having failed to fully pass these bills even in the most right-wing legislatures, Republicans in numerous states have resurrected these bills to try again this year.

In Michigan, where the bill made it through the House in December but stalled before getting the governor, GOP state senator Mike Shirkey re-introduced the bill in the upper chamber. “It's simply about protecting the rights that the constitution provides for all citizens, not just select groups of citizens,” he said.

Protests against the bills have been fierce. Eighteen prominent legal scholars wrote to Georgia lawmakers telling them to defeat the bill; Georgia pastors, rabbis, and imams have spoken out against the legislation, as have traditionally conservative Georgia businesses.

Attacking Labor Organizing

In 2011, Republicans spearheaded attacks against collective bargaining in the public sector, arguing that taxpayers were on the hook for these workers so their union rights should not be sacrosanct. This year, these same Republicans are going much further, targeting private sector unions. In Wisconsin, Republican lawmakers are advancing so-called “right-to-work” legislation designed to prevent unions from collecting dues from all the workers they represent. Despite Republican Governor Scott Walker's failure to publicly endorse the bill, 2016 politics weighs deeply on Walker; if he is to pursue a presidential run, it will no doubt be held against him by donors if he fails to endorse the latest GOP attack on union rights.

In New Mexico, Republican Governor Susana Martinez has no such reticence in endorsing the right-to-work of her GOP lawmakers. The state has 46,000 union workers, many of them in the public sector; the state also already has a paltry 6.2 percent union membership rate, that's significantly below the 11.1 percent national average.

Right-to-work is also being pushed at an even lower level. In Kentucky, numerous individual counties are advancing this anti-union legislation, after the state legislature has killed similar legislation in committees. There are constitutional issues at stake, as the state's attorney general Jack Conway has said that only the state legislature and not county governments can pass such a rule change.

Cutting Taxes On The Rich, Starving Their States Of Revenues

Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback blew a huge hole in his state's finances by cutting income taxes (all levels of the income ladder saw a reduction but the rich saw their taxes cut almost in half) in a bid to become a “Texas-like economic powerhouse,” in the words of the Wall Street Journal.

This resulted in a budget deficit of nearly a billion dollars. Brownback has decided to make up this gap partly by cutting $127 million from schools and delaying pension payments.

Texas, the model for Kansas, is doubling down on its own philosophy, as Senate Republicans are advocating for an additional $4 billion in tax cuts, “even in the face of lower oil prices and scaled-back state revenue projections.”

Maryland, where a Republican Larry Hogan won the governor's mansion in an unexpected upset, will soon be getting this red-state treatment. Hogan plans for “an array of permanent, long-term budget reductions – for public schools, private colleges, libraries and economic development aid for farmers.” These reductions will be paid for by a “tax reduction package” the administration is putting together.

Guns Everywhere

This week the Texas GOP announced it has the votes in the state senate to pass a bill allowing guns on college campuses. The bill would make public colleges open to concealed carry owners, and allow only private colleges and universities to make their own decisions about allowing guns on campus.

Meanwhile, Florida's House Criminal Justice Subcommittee approved a similar measure last week; advocates are using a recent example of a shooting at Florida State University to press their case.

Currently, 20 states ban carrying concealed weapons on college campuses, while 23 let individual colleges decide; the remaining seven allow guns on campuses categorically.

A Change In 2016?

Fo​urteen gubernatorial races will take place in 2016, in the backdrop of a presidential election. Eight of those races will feature Democrats defending their own turn, and three of the races, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi will take place in November 2015. One of the most vulnerable will be North Carolina's Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, giving progressives a chance to unseat a Republican in a state that is the site of a huge protest movement against right-wing policies.

It's unlikely, however, that McCrory and other Republicans will be unseated unless there is wide awareness of the GOP's efforts to turn their states into plutocratic laboratories.

Zaid Jilani is an AlterNet staff writer. Follow @zaidjilani on Twitter.

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