One-party rule now the norm in states
Illinois is hardly alone in its decision to put one party in charge of state government.
This country's voters spoke clearly on Nov. 6. They re-elected a Democratic president, a Democratic U.S. Senate and a Republican U.S. House of Representatives.
If one can claim a mandate, all can claim a mandate. People may complain about the status quo, but they also voted for it on the national level.
It's different in the states, where voters chose to give either the Democrats or the Republicans total control of the governor's office and the legislature in 37 states. Just eight years ago, 30 of the 50 legislatures were split between the parties.
Some suggest that gerrymandering by one party or the other laid the groundwork for this dramatic expansion of one-party control, and tinkering with political maps surely played a role. But that contention ignores the fact that voters were electing governors as well as legislators and that some legislatures controlled by one party were replaced by a majority of legislators from the other party.
In Illinois and California, obviously assisted by gerrymandered legislative maps, Democrats were able to turn large majorities in both legislative houses into super-majorities in both houses.
If voters in these various states want their Republican and Democratic legislators to compromise, they sent the wrong message in the voting because a political party with sole control of the levers of power has no incentive to do so. Freed to implement their agendas, political parties often do so.
In Wisconsin, Republic Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican legislature can continue to implement the plans they believe will move the state ahead. Democrats there have been and will continue to be appalled.
In Minnesota, where Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has a new Democratic legislature, it's the Republicans who have been cast to the sidelines to watch the majority party in action.
Theoretically, at least, there's nothing wrong with one-party government. People deserve the government they elect. Further, one-party control means that one party is more easily held accountable at the polls for what it does. (That rule doesn't apply in Illinois, where majority Democrats have failed to solve big problems and have been repeatedly returned to power.)
But that responsibility also can have a chastening effect in one-party states. It's easy to play to the gallery and appeal to narrow groups when a division of power makes it impossible to pass legislation. Undivided power means those in charge have to take their responsibilities seriously and make decisions soberly. (This rule also doesn't apply in Illinois.)
If one thing has been clear over the course of this nation's history, it's that there are no final victories in politics. Down one day, a defeated political party can rise from the ashes the next.
Indeed, the best thing going for one party often is the other. Republican mistakes can and have led to Democratic victories, and vice versa.
So it will be instructive to see how the 37 one-party states address their problems. They will experiment with many widely different ideas, and there will be much to learn from the results. It's federalism in the best sense.
Nationally, Democrats and Republicans are stuck with each other. But in 37 states, it's full speed ahead for the party in command.