A Timely Reminder

The most recent issue of the Harvard Law and Policy review was devoted to analyses of the “State of the States: Laboratories of Democracy.” The introductory essay, by Joel Rogers, made an important point that is all too often obscured by our focus on national issues, personalities and campaigns: the federal government really doesn’t run the country.

The federal government controls many public functions, some of them uniquely: macroeconomic policy and interstate commerce, the currency and its value, war and foreign policy. But on nearly everything else that government touches, state and local government play a far greater and more active role. Our national government is essentially a big insurance company, debtor, and gigantic military. Takeaway non-discretionary income transfers, debt service, and national defense, and its 2014 spending was only 0.7% of GDP, its total investment and consumption was only $472 billion, its total non-defense civilian employment was only 1.3 million. By comparison, in that same year, state and local governments spent 10.3% of GDP, did $1.9 trillion of investment and consumption, and employed 14.3 million people respectively, fifteen, four, and eleven times as much as the federal government.

Furthermore, he points out that the areas of our common lives that are subject to local control tend to be areas that are pretty important to most citizens.

That includes, inter alia, the quality of their public schools (where state and local governments not only provide ninety percent of funding, but also control what and who is taught, by whom, and how); environment (through state and local government control of energy use, transportation, most water, and waste disposal); neighborhoods (through their control of land use, zoning, housing, parks and other public spaces, police, and emergency response); and our democracy (through their control of voting rights, campaign and election administration, and decennial redis-
tricting). The power of the federal government is distant, and slight, com-
pared to this.

Take a close look at the list of decisions made by state and local government units, and then consider which candidates and/or parties are most likely to perform those tasks competently and in the public interest.

Here in Indiana, at the state level, the Pence administration has a truly deplorable record on education (what some have characterized as a “war” on public schools). It has fought environmental regulations to the point of suing to avoid compliance. And the Indiana legislature has an equally deplorable record, especially when it comes to democracy: not just redistricting, which has allowed legislators to choose their voters, rather than the other way around, but refusing to extend voting hours  or to consider other measures to encourage, rather than discourage, voting.

We need to remember the importance of our “down-ticket” choices when we go to the polls in November. Donald Trump may pose a more existential threat, but that’s no excuse for failing to appreciate the importance of offices closer to home.


  1. Education, education, education.
    You are so right, thanks.
    Vote and use your faculties.

  2. Anthony–you are correct! I don’t know if a pun was intended in your “use your faculties” comment, but it brought a smile to my face this AM. ?

  3. This is exactly why the Koch brothers started spending their resources on state elections more than thirty years ago. They recognized that controling the state legislatures and governors is where they can get what they want. They easily convinced many of their fellow billionaires in this country to join forces with them.

    Their goal is to end all environmental regulation so that they can destroy the land, water and air while they continue to reap the financial rewards from doing so. They have created multiple non-profit organizations to manipulate the general public into believing their lies. It is a sad state of affairs that evil people with endless financial resources can be allowed to create “non-profit” organizations for their own personal benefit.

    Another major goal of theirs is to destroy public education. Once they do that, then they can control what is taught in the schools and convert future generations into their personal slaves.

  4. Here in Florida GOP state legislators and Tea Party Billionaire Gov Scott have ruled with an iron fist, resulting in the Zika epidemic with over 1500 victims and counting, the Pollution of costal areas and harbors is a disaster, there are over 5000+ natural resources law enforcement jobs vacant in one of Americas longest state coastline , health care budgets have been diverted to political warfare projects aginst public health issues. Now the Governor and Legeslators are demanding federal funds to fix things after not meeting their elected duties due only to their ultra conservative views.

  5. Ray R Irvin,

    I have seen the Florida green algae pollution on the news. It is deplorable.

    Based upon what you have written, it almost sounds as if Florida might be worse than Indiana in many ways.

    The conservative governors and legislators are all for small government until they realize that they have caused a catastrophe. They even sue the fed government for regulations that they don’t want to follow. Then they want the federal government to swoop in and fix it for them. Yes, lets let everyone else pay to fix the problems they created.

    It sounds like Gov Scott and Mike Pence were cut from the same cloth.

  6. These laboratories of democracy have indeed shown America what does and doesn’t work. On the one hand, California raised taxes on the rich and is generally prospering. A quick look at Indiana and Kansas shows that the tea party brings low taxes, failing educational systems and general disfunction.

  7. Ray,

    “Here in Florida GOP state legislators and Tea Party Billionaire Gov Scott have ruled with an iron fist.”

    And no more so than in Duval County (Jacksonville) through his Tea Party associate Peter Rummell.

    “No one remembers Menendez de Aviles or Duncan Clinch; its the same with Peter Rummell,
    Florida’s paradigmatical conquistador of the theme park age. Rummell, like James Gadsden, grew rich and powerful making himself useful to the rich and powerful. Also like Gadsden, he saw his conquests, starting in Florida, span continents. Euro Disney Resorts, today know as Disneyland Paris, was on of Rummell’s creations. Critics say it rained too much there but Rummell, who corporation title was chairman of imagineering, understood about chilly, rainy Marne-la-Vallee what Disney had about muggy, buggy Orlando. The place didn’t matter. Accessibility was all. Europe’s autoroutes converged on the site Rummell chose. Euro Disney’s customers, Rummell foresaw, would drive right past the real Europe in order to pay to get inside Disney’s version of it.”

    “Finding Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State by T.D. Allman (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013) page 388.

    Teaming with the local newspaper, The Florida Times-Union and the local oligarchy, Rummell has heloped transform Jacksonville into a “world class political theme park.”……THE NEW VICHY CITY.

  8. Nancy,

    “Ray…Based upon what you have written, it almost sounds as if Florida might be worse than Indiana in many ways.”

    Take my word for it, it is. Certain sectors, like Northeast Florida, have the benefit of massive financial clout from the outside.

    North Florida in terms of political reality is South Georgia. That’s why Florida is so similar to Indiana. All across the northern tier of Florida, the political climate is very similar to the northern sector of Indiana which you know so well.

  9. Vichy France, or the Vichy regime (in French, now called: Régime de Vichy or Vichy; at the time, called itself: État Français, or French State) was the de facto French government of 1940-1944 during the Nazi Germany occupation of World War II. The Vichy position that it was the de jure French government was challenged by the Free French Forces of Charles de Gaulle, and French governments ever since have held that the Vichy regime was an illegal government run by traitors.


  10. Jacksonville, Florida USA is what you get when you combine Vichy France and “1984” by George Orwell. My hometown is really a REMARKable city. Anyone who cares about the future of America should make sure they visit “The New Vichy City” and then drive down the road to Orlando and compare it to Disney World.

    I’m sure you will find Jacksonville to be much more creative.

    Donald Trump visited here on August 3rd and packed Veterans Memorial Arena.

    “In October, Trump packed the Jacksonville Landing’s Courtyard. No establishment types were on hand that day. Last week, though, when Trump filled the Veterans Memorial Arena, they packed the crowd, not as figures of honor, but as background elements, like the trees Bob Ross rendered on the “Joy of Painting.”

    “They showed up [Mayor Lenny Curry was on hand serving as “master of ceremonies”] ostensibly to “support the nominee,” but ended up as props, like the posters in the crowd, like the marked-up Make America Grate (?) Again hats, disposable and ephemeral to a man.”

    ~FOLIO: Northeast Florida’s Independent Voice Since 1987. August 10-16. page 10

    Santa Claus Trump has “come to town” and I’m afraid he might stay for a very long time. From where I’m sitting, he isn’t going to leave town anytime soon.

  11. The Germans failed in their attempt to stop Adolph Hitler during his Munich putsch in 1923. Jailing him was not enough. What I have been trying to say for many months is that Jacksonville is the Munich of 2016. That’s all.

  12. I have never voted for Mike Pence. As a Libertarian I doubt I ever will. However, the Indiana public school system has been a miserable failure since my childhood, everywhere I have encountered it. That applies to other states as well. If Pence is not friendly to the state school factory system than good for him. Many other local governmental products have similar problems. He may have his own reasons, good or bad, for his decisions. I doubt they agree with my reasons. But at least he is sailing the right direction in many cases.

  13. One of the things that Lewis Powell realized in the 60s and 70s was that progress was a process not a product. He paid attention to the details and noted the trajectory from conception to realization of the ideas that rocked the 60s, like civil rights and resistance to the war in Vietnam and then he wrote the Manifesto for oligarchs that is still followed today.

    I’m sure that the Koch’s carry a pocket version like the Khans do of the Constitution.

    The Kochs and Sheldon Adelson and Grover Norquist and Rush Limbaugh and Karl Rove and Rex Tillerson and Rupert Murdoch and the Bushes have been turning the crank ever since while being very careful never to mention it whose name shall never be spoken, “Neolibralism”.

    It is not anti education, but for selective education. It chooses to educate the elite and abandon we, the people. It chooses to educate about those beliefs that make good soldiers instead of the reality of the universe. The process knows that the product, oligarchy, requires loyal followers and the way that they are produced is by selective education in order to avoid the prying eyes of the Department of Education but still take advantage of easily purchased state and local boards of education.

    They really do believe that wealth entitles, that their wealth comes from superior genes not dumb luck. They really do not believe in democracy.

    Theirs is an uphill battles and their Manifesto advises great patience and a steady hand on the tiller.

    There is a chink in their armor though. Their fuel, wealth, mostly comes from two sources. Fossil fuels and gambling. We need, as most victorious armies have learned over the years, to choke them logistically. Cut their supply lines. Strangle their funding.

    Fate has thrown us a life line. Sustainable energy policy. That makes it the prime offensive target of oligarchs. They will do anything to stand in its way knowing it will be their demise when successful.

    Fate also dealt us the Trump card. Never before have the times been more auspicious. We have to strike now.

  14. For those with the time and motivation to understand the foundation that supports Trump et al here’s a necessary reference.


    Trump must be defeated. No informed person would disagree. However what the Powell Manifesto prescribes is that, like Whack-a-Mole, another will take his place, at local, state and national levels.

    We need to be in the fight for the long term. We need to heed WWII Churchill.

    “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender”

  15. Pete,

    You’re absolutely right, as Churchill explained there are numerous battlegrounds, some of which are much more important than others. That distinction can only be made through a sophisticated intelligence apparatus which is non-existent on the pro-democracy side. The Southern Poverty Law Center, Anti-Defamation League, N.A.A.C.P., Americans United, A.C.L.U. etc. are not set-up for and consequently are not capable of performing that mission. And until things change, the socio/political culture in the U. S. will continue to deteriorate toward an inevitable catastrophe.

  16. Marv,

    I have a question for you……..Where did the crazed ultra-conservatives in Jacksonville originate from?

  17. Most Americans see Democracy, the idea that those who govern are hired and fired by those governed, as the gold standard for freedom and government that is responsive rather than dictating. Of course that’s only one measure of the quality of government but most would say a requirement not a want.

    Another strength of Democracy is that it tends to find and respond to the middle of the road. If one believes in “normal distribution”, the bell curve, the population can be divided up into the majority in the middle surrounded on both sides by extremist minorities on every issue.

    When Lewis Powell wrote his very influential, though not by today’s standards well known, Memo he was regretting that the extreme of business centric government was under attack by extremists on his left. “No thoughtful person can question that
    the American economic system is under attack.” Was it? I don’t remember that as being the national conversation, but he assumes rather than proves that to be the case.

    As a business centric extremist his purpose was to mainstream his belief, push to the side alternative beliefs, and he proceeded to define strategy and tactics to bring that about.

    To his credit and our demise his words were very influential and taken to heart by the extremists who aligned with him to start with. He prodded them into action.

    Why our demise? When put into practice what he espoused brought failure rather than the economic success (remember 2008) that he predicted. I believe that is simply explained. Capitalism works only because of competition which it strives mightily to limit. What saves competition and protects the priorities of we, the people, is regulation. So the economic sweet spot is and always has been regulated capitalism, what he viewed as attacks on his world.

    Our ship merely needs to be righted back to what did work, an even keel, the middle of the road that he proposed was a threat to his world view.

    Our obstacle to that simple prescription is the world that he created. Statisticians would say that he created a “bi-polar distribution”, a two humped camel, a conflicted populace.

    Of course the immediate danger is that dysfunctional population will continue to get transformed into political reality. So, in the end, we have to restore both functional politics and our former functional population.

    How? Those working for the common good have no equivalent of The Powell Memo. In other words, the opposition has a master plan and we don’t.

    I personally believe that Sen Sanders left us a master plan, the path back to the center of the road, for President Clinton to implement.

    Lewis Powell’s plan took 40 years of work to firmly implant. I can only think of one reason that tearing it out will go quicker. Part of what needs to be done will be motivated by anthropogenic global warming and the essential transformation away from fossil fuels which were and are the main source of both funding and lies supporting the Powell plan.

    That will not make things easier to accomplish, it just raises the stakes considerably and high stakes risks motivate.


  18. Legislators who label themselves conservative in Indiana are not for small government nor for government closest to the people. They micro-manage and often eliminate local control of local issues. The Koch brothers/ALEC legislation which caused privatization of Flint water management was proposed here year after year to control public schools. It was watered down to a level to finally pass which permitted state takeover of public schools and assignment of their management to private, for-profit companies from out of state and even out of the country. These state-assigned managers over-rule locally elected school boards.

    The state legislature has also opposed the right of Indianapolis residents to decide for themselves whether or not to finance a mass transit system. If your local community wants to pass legislation to better control for gun violence, too bad. The legislature prohibits that.

    These are just three examples of our legislature’s over-reach to deny Hoosiers their right to home rule.

    Sheila is right that the legislature also has re-districted the legislative maps to pick the voters who will mostly ensure legislators’ re-election AND GOP super majorities of better than two-to-one in the House and five-to-one in our State Senate.

    Democracy is not a spectator sport. It is perilous NOT to be informed and active.

  19. Nancy,

    “Marv, I have a question for you……..Where did the crazed ultra-conservatives in Jacksonville originate from?”

    There’s been a trio at the top from the beginning. However, some of the players have been substituted. Outside of Jacksonville, the two most important origination points are Dallas, Texas and Augusta, Georgia home of Morris Communications owner of The Florida Times-Union.

    Along with Dallas, Jacksonville anchors the Southern Bible Belt. When the racial forces in Dallas lost the battle for one man, one vote in 1991, they immediately transferred the Center of gravity (COG) to Jacksonville. In other words, Jacksonville was “fingered” by what Pete has described as the “Dallas Mafia.” It was very obvious by what is better called “signatures.”

    In 1992, I convinced the U.S. Civil Rights Commission to have a closed session Jacksonville to discuss the transfer of power to Jacksonville. I was later informed, that the situation was discussed at the Annual Black Mayor’s Conference in Washington, D.C. in 1995.

    Earlier Ray R Irvin mentioned the “iron fist” of Governor Scott.

    The Southern Bible Belt is somewhat different than Indiana. In order to understand the difference, “Divided Minds” by Carol Polsgrove is far and away the best out there. Carol was a professor of journalism at Indiana University in Bloomington. My discussion of the following excerpt from her book was on her website for some time:

    “….That fall (in 1964), Alfred A. Knopf published (Howard) Zinn’s “The Southern Mystique.” In it Zinn put forth a thesis that directly countered (Jim) Silver’s point in “The Closed Society.” Silver had described Mississippi as set apart from the national will–so set apart that the nation would have to force change on it. Zinn argued that the South was not so special, so different. Americans ought to shrug off the idea of a “Southern mystique.” The South only exagerrated some of the characteristics of the nation, including racism. The South was “a distorted image of the North.” The southern mystiques–the idea that white southerners were innately violent or xenophobic–was only an excuse for inaction. The truth was that “compromise and vacillation on the race question are intrinsic parts of our national political heritage.” If national leaders failed to act now, they followed a long tradition: “The Negro has always been a hitchhiker in American history.”

    “Reviewing “The Southern Mystique” for the “New York Herald Tribune’s Book Week,” Ralph Ellison remarked on Zinn’s optimism about executive action. Zinn was “far to charitable toward politicians’ motives,” Ellison said. In his first long political piece since he took on Irving Howe, Ellison disagreed with Zinn on several other counts. For all the myths and mysteries around it, the southern mystique WAS real. It worked its will through “actions, the goal of which is the manipulation of power.” Southern politicians knew how to use the mystique, their inheritance from the past, to hold on to their power. Zinn paid to much attention to psychological theories that ignored the past. The BROWN decision had not transformed Negroes from obsequious “Sambos” into political actors. Negroes had been preparing themselves for freedom all along.”

    “Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement” by Carol Polsgrove (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001) 233-34.

    Most systems in the Deep South were completely closed systems. Jacksonville is still 100% closed. That wasn’t the case in the North. Zinn’s experiences in Atlanta, one of the most liberal cities in the South certainly wasn’t predictive of Dallas or Jacksonville.

    Jim Silver died at a relatively young age. Howard Zinn was a marvelous human being, but he underestimated the power of the “closed” racial systems in the deep South. And unfortunately, Jim Silver wasn’t around to counter-balance his position.

    Jacksonville is still ruled by an “iron fist.” That’s how you keep the system completely closed.

  20. Do states that are ruled by ALEC-minded right wingers funded by the Kochs and other libertarian mobsters ” who pass right to work laws and play legislative social games under secular pretense qualify as “laboratories of democracy?” I hope not!

  21. I think that we all know and agree on step 1. Get President Clinton in the Whitehouse, a Democratic Senate majority, and a balanced House as a minimum. That doesn’t actually do anything but it`s the minimum foundation for continued progress post Obama. Their first action is to restore the Supreme Court.

    For those who agree with me that the majority of the Neoliberal threat is funded by the fossil fuel industry the next priority is a carbon tax. That is the only mechanism that will restore true economic realism to the urgent need to stop dumping unaffordable costs on future generations and assure that they would be bequeathed from us a planet that potentially supports them all as we inherited from those before us. And it will send a strong message to Neoliberals that America cannot be bought.

    After that other priorities have to be established. Imagine though a Congress working together with a President all on the same page. The backlog of problems to be solved is lengthy as Congress has been out to lunch for 8 years and before that The Executive was.

    Nothing is not possible anymore.

    The biggest obstacle left will be Republican governors and state houses.

  22. Pete,

    “Nothing is not possible anymore. The biggest obstacle left will be Republican governors and state houses.”

    I’m all for the future you have set forth. However, we’re a long, long way from reaching it. We first have to deal with the obstacles that will prevent us from reaching your goal. Our cultural mindset is the FIRST obstacle we MUST overcome.

    I believe Nancy and I see the socio/political culture very much different than you do. You have a great global vision, but I’m afraid that limits your ability to accept the real socio/political CONTEXT we’re dealing with NOW in the U.S. Your URBAN dominated vision is excluding the RURAL and that is exactly the same mindset that eventually allowed for the Nazi takeover in Germany.

    Donald Trump might be fading away. But what about the Tea Party and its effect on the races concerning the Republican governors and state houses? I would STRONGLY suggest the Tea Party is just as dangerous and probably more so than they have ever been, especially with the likes of a Hillary Clinton as an URBAN opponent.

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