Empowered by their election victories in 2010, Republicans are moving ahead state by state with a conservative agenda that could reshape the nation.
Voters put the GOP in the majority in 25 state legislatures and 29 governors’ offices in last year’s elections.
Bills that would have met a quick death under Democratic control have advanced under Republican majorities.
And the Republican gains are turning out to be every bit as important in shaping the nation’s ideological direction as anything happening in Washington, according to an Associated Press report examining the rightward shift in many state capitals.
Newly elected Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s curbs on public sector collective bargaining in Wisconsin has been followed by similar action in Ohio, where Republican John Kasich has replaced Democrat Ted Strickland, and at least 20 states are taking aim at public employees’ pay, benefits or bargaining rights.
In Florida, the Republican-controlled legislature has produced a law imposing more accountability on teachers, along with 18 proposed restrictions on abortions.
Michigan, with Republican Rick Snyder replacing Democrat Jennifer Granholm in the governor’s mansion, has reduced the amount of time unemployed workers can collect jobless benefits.
Indiana may soon have the broadcast school voucher program in the nation.
In Virginia, GOP legislators enacted a law that will close the state’s abortion clinics.
Missouri lawmakers have approved a tax cut long sought by businesses in the state.
In North Carolina, where the GOP won control of both houses of the legislature for the first time since 1870, Republicans appear ready to pass limits on damages in medical malpractice suits and an expansion of charter schools in the state, and have made progress in giving gun owners more rights to carry concealed pistols.
North Carolina is also one of nearly a dozen states eying an initiative to require photo IDs at polling places, which Democrats fear would suppress voting by their minority and legal immigrant supporters.
In Vermont, lawmakers are seeking cuts in spending on the elderly and disabled and have shelved a plan to raise taxes on the wealthy.
South Carolina Republicans are strengthening immigration enforcement laws that are already among the nation’s toughest.
In Oklahoma, where Republicans control both chambers and the governor’s office for the first time ever, the GOP is changing the state’s civil justice system, and making state workers contribute more to their pensions and work longer hours.
Republicans in New Hampshire have also passed bills to shift more public sector pension costs to workers, and have approved legislation to expand the right to use deadly force in self-defense.
In Montana, freshmen Republicans in the legislature are issuing calls to nullify federal laws, create an armed citizen’s militia, legalize spear hunting, and force FBI agents to get a sheriff’s permission before arresting someone.
“When one whole party comes in, and they come in having been out before, there’s that flush of victory that makes them think this is our time, whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, to get through what we want to get through,” historian Doris Kearns Goodwin told AP.
The big gains by Republicans at the state level will also come into play in the national arena when congressional seats are reapportioned following the 2010 census.
In most states, governors and state legislators play a determining role in the redistricting process, and the party that draws the election map in each state will shape the political landscape for the next 10 years.
By controlling most states that will gain or lose congressional seats, Republican Governors Association Chairman Haley Barbour said after the November elections, “We can make sure that the Democrats don't take from us tomorrow what we fought so hard for today."
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