The New Federalism: Restructuring Our Government

By Cary, Mary Kate | USA TODAY, September 1995 | Go to article overview

The New Federalism: Restructuring Our Government


Cary, Mary Kate, USA TODAY


IF YOU WANT to understand the fundamental realignment now going on in American politics, look no farther than the closest Republican governor. As House Speaker Newt Gingrich noted: "It is Republican governors across this country who created the framework of experience which we--Sen. Dole in the Senate and myself in the House--now have to bring it to our colleagues working with [governors] to apply it to the national level."

Governors know better than most that good policies make for good politics. As more than one GOP senator admits, the states have become the proving ground for Republican ideas.

With a record of slashing government, cutting taxes, lowering spending, and providing citizens with a more effective state government, it is no wonder that seven incumbent GOP governors won more than 60% of the vote in the 1994 election and not one Republican incumbent won with less than a seven-point margin of victory. With 11 new Republicans in office, 70% of the people--182,000,000 Americans--live in 30 states led by Republican governors.

What Republican Party chairman Haley Barbour calls "winning with the politics of performance" includes a number of success stories. For example, Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld cut state spending by $1,700,000,000 in the first month he was in office. In 1994, he was re-elected with more than 70% of the vote.

Arizona Gov. Fife Symington is one of several GOP governors who cut taxes every year he was in office, despite dire predictions from the doom-and-gloom chorus, reaped a booming state economy and a 52-44% margin of victory in November, 1994.

The same month Pres. Clinton signed the largest tax increase in American history, Michigan Gov. John Engler signed the largest tax cut in his state's history. Sixty-three percent of the voters chose Engler over his liberal Democrat opponent in 1994.

Americans are demanding results. The No. 1 reason people say they disapprove of Clinton's job performance is because he's "all talk, no action." By campaigning on his frustration at his lack of accomplishments, Clinton unwittingly helped fuel the Republican sweep. In the final analysis, maintains Symington, the President "was crazy to be so candid." In contrast, voters perceived Republican governors as problem-solvers.

Voters in November, 1994, overwhelmingly embraced Republican ideas of limited government and lower taxes. "People," maintains notes Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, "wanted the unbridled growth of the Federal government to stop." Clinton pollster Stan Greenberg observed, in what was possibly the election's greatest understatement, that the vote for Republicans at all levels of government "was not a casual act."

At the 1994 Republican Governors Conference in Williamsburg, Va., the 30 victorious GOP governors and governors-elect announced the ballot box revolution's second phase. They and the Congressional leadership are working to achieve a shift in power from the Congress to the states--a restoration of the Federalism intended by the Founding Fathers to make state authority the cornerstone of self-government.

"People are disgusted," indicates Virginia Gov. George Allen. "They want to take back our state governments. And we are perfectly capable of doing it." In the long run, he says, the issue before the American people is this: Do the people have control of their own states and their own destiny?

The answer to such a question is clear, insists Texas Gov. George W. Bush: "We're pretty good at what we do in Texas, and we'd like the Federal government to just leave us alone."

Former Attorney General Bill Barr notes that, over the second half of this century, the nation has seen a massive centralization of power that draws everything into the insatiable maw of Washington, D.C, an explosion in the sheer magnitude of government--not just its shift and focus, but its size and cost. …

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