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Republicans hold governorships and legislative majorities in 22 states, compared to 17 for Democrats and 11 states in which government is divided. Yet GOP-run states often do not implement policies aligned with their party. The following is the third in a four-part series on Republican-dominated state legislatures and how they lead.
Even as Democrats push far-Left policies whenever they have a bare majority, some of the most Republican-dominated states govern in a moderate way — with a Daily Wire analysis of voting records finding that the larger the Republican majority in a state legislature, the more moderate those Republicans behave on average.
Deep-red Utah and Wyoming, which sent Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney to Congress, also send moderate Republicans to their own statehouses. They’re not the only states in which Republicans, despite holding a near-monopoly on state policy making, often reject such basic conservative initiatives as school choice and restrictions on abortion. Critics wonder why states with GOP legislative supermajorities don’t wield their power the way their deep-blue counterparts like California do.
It’s not that people necessarily want red states to go to extremes, which can backfire. Rather, they object to examples that are far from that: Louisiana’s Republican House speaker was elected with more Democrat votes than Republican ones; the South Carolina legislature kicked its most conservative members out of the Republican caucus; and Wyoming’s speaker killed a school-choice proposal that is standard conservative fare, The Daily Wire reported earlier in this series exploring the importance of state-level policy.
Why Republicans in deep-red states would be less Republican than their counterparts elsewhere is one of the most baffling mysteries in politics. How can it be that residents of deep-red states elect moderate members time and again? And what can they do to ensure that their state lawmakers accurately reflect their views?
“We’ve never been outvoted by Democrats, but we lose all the time,” Alan Seabaugh, a Louisiana state legislator, told The Daily Wire. “And it’s because we’re outvoted by RINOs. It’s because of people who want their constituents to think of them as conservative, they run as conservatives, and then they get to Baton Rouge and they hope no one notices how they vote.”
“The red states are actually the worst” when it comes to moderate Republicans. “A lot of Dems know they can’t get elected with a D next to their name, so they put an R next to their name and then vote like liberals.”
In that red state, one problem is so-called “jungle primaries.” Back when Louisiana was controlled overwhelmingly by Democrats, Democrats implemented the system so that instead of having to face a Republican in the general election, the top two in the primary would advance, giving general election voters a choice between two Democrats. Now, the state is overwhelmingly conservative, but the same system remains in place. The state is so Republican that the top two vote-getters in the primary will often be a conservative Republican and a moderate one. In the general election, Democrats will vote for the more moderate candidate, alongside some Republicans, pushing him or her to victory.
“The people of Louisiana are very red. Donald Trump carried Louisiana by a bigger margin than Texas. But the jungle primary pushes everything to the middle,” Seabaugh said.
Other Republican states have a problem with open primaries. Whereas Democrat strongholds like the District of Columbia exclude Republicans from any meaningful impact in their elections, allowing only registered Democrats to vote in the party primary that essentially decides the race, Republican states have not done the same. Wyoming law makes it relatively easy for Democrats to vote in Republican primaries, and they do — with Democrat officials sometimes explicitly urging it.
Ten Republican states have fully-open primaries, while only four Democrat ones do. Six Democrat states have fully-closed primaries, while only three Republican ones do. The rest have more complicated rules falling somewhere in between, according to a Daily Wire analysis of National Council of State Legislatures 2021 data.
Georgia has fully open primaries, as well as a runoff system that in multiple recent election cycles allowed a Democrat to head to the U.S. Senate even though a Republican got more votes in the general election.
Another factor is that in places where almost everyone identifies as Republican, people seeking power know that whatever their actual beliefs, they must put an R behind their name if they want to win. Given that few people pay attention to state races, many voters don’t notice the deception.
“The red states are actually the worst” when it comes to moderate Republicans, Andrew Roth, president of the State Freedom Caucus Network, told The Daily Wire. “A lot of Dems know they can’t get elected with a D next to their name, so they put an R next to their name and then vote like liberals.”
A less nefarious version of that is the fact that where being Republican is simply the default, people who are essentially apolitical identify as it because it’s just how they were brought up. Some candidates are community leaders like Boy Scout leaders and football coaches who know a lot of people in town, and want to take their involvement to the next level.
“The closer you get to the local level, the less party matters. Louisiana has been voting for Republicans in federal elections for decades, we just don’t necessarily elect conservatives at the state level,” Seabaugh said.
Then there’s the fact that many elected Republicans are remnants of the era when conservatives promoted business interests–even though corporations often now function as arms of the Left. When Georgia enacted voting reforms, driving the pressure against it were corporations like Coca-Cola.
“When the stakeholders are small and there’s a limited media following it, the special interest groups are able to overpower it,” Thomas Bradbury, director of advocacy and policy at the American Conservative Union, told The Daily Wire. “Especially on some of the cultural issues, the Chamber of Commerce just has way too much power over some of these Republicans. That’s why you see people like [South Dakota Gov.] Kristi Noem veto the women’s sports bill.”
When Democrats wanted South Carolina to adopt a hate-crimes law in February, it was corporations like Duke Energy who put the pressure on Republicans to acquiesce, arguing that “the lack of a hate crime law could hurt South Carolina’s recruitment and retention of businesses.” The debate came as state Republicans were courting an electric vehicle plant for which they earmarked $1.3 billion in government support last month.
Bradbury once served as an aide in the Missouri legislature. “We tried to take on special taxing districts where certain corporations would get full-on tax exemptions, which is very against free market principles and unfair,” he said. Republicans held a hearing where there were a few citizens and policy wonks speaking against the special treatment for corporations, “and then probably 55 paid lobbyists in the room opposing us. It’s amazing how much influence special interests have because these are part-time legislatures so the experts actually are the lobbyists.”
Then there are those who go into the legislature as bona fide conservatives, but quickly give in to existing power structures, believing it’s just what they’re supposed to do, Louisiana lawmaker Danny McCormick told The Daily Wire.
“There’s a tremendous amount of pressure to give in to the establishment once you get down there. There’s a tremendous pressure to go along and get along, and they threaten you that you won’t get any bridges or money for roads if you don’t,” he said.