American State and Local Politics: Directions for the 21st Century

By Ronald E. Weber; Paul Brace | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINE
State and Local Parties in a Candidate-Centered Age

John F. Bibby

IN THE STATES, it is Republicans and Democrats who "make the major decisions regarding who pays and who receives." 1 Indeed, political parties permeate virtually every aspect of state government. Since 1950, only five individuals have been elected to a governorship as independents; state constitutional offices such as attorney general are controlled by Republicans and Democrats; and after the 1996 elections a mere .002 percent of the over 7,300 state legislators were not members of the two major parties (excluding the nonpartisan legislature of Nebraska).

In spite of the pervasiveness of parties in state politics, Americans from the first days of the republic have had misgivings about political parties. In The Federalist, the Founders warned of the calamities that a politics of factions would create, and in his Farewell Address, Washington admonished his fellow citizens to avoid a "spirit of party." The hostility of the American civic culture to political parties is reflected in polls showing that a majority of the voters believe that parties "do more to confuse issues than to provide a clear choice on them," and that "it would be better if we put no party labels on the ballot." In addition, state parties face stiff competition for influence from political action committees ( PACs), political consultants, and candidates' personal organizations. Yet, despite a hostile cultural environment and potent challengers for influence over the electoral and governmental processes, state political parties have shown remarkable resiliency, adaptability, and durability.

Indeed, one of the most striking recent developments is the extent to which state parties have adapted to the increasingly candidate-centered nature of American politics by becoming professionalized service agencies for their candidates and local party affiliates.


The Changing Role of State Parties

State parties have gone through a series of transformations in this century in response, first, to changes in state policy toward parties espoused by

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