Odds and Ends: Caucuses Feed Extremism…Those Pesky Future Obligations…Obama & the States

lavarr policy insightsMitt Romney has been saying that political party caucuses used in the candidate nomination process tend to skew politics toward the radical fringes. That’s because a lot of regular folks can’t make it to caucuses, or have had unpleasant experiences there, but the hardline insider activists show up and dominate.

Here’s clear evidence of that phenomenon on the Democratic side: The Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted that Hillary Clinton excelled in higher-turnout primary states, while Bernie Sanders did best in lower-turnout caucus states. Clinton is an establishment Democrat, who will probably become more centrist in the general election. Sanders is a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, holding extreme views.

“In caucus states, he’s (Sanders) averaging over 60 percent of the vote. In primaries, he averages just under 43 percent. He’s won 71 percent of caucuses; Clinton has won 72 percent of primaries,” Bump wrote.

The lower the turnout, and the harder it is to get involved, the more extremists control political outcomes.

In Utah, we know Republican delegates hold decidedly more conservative views and have different priorities than Republicans in general. It will be interesting to see if Gov. Gary Herbert wins the primary election, repudiating the state convention delegates who favored challenger Jonathan Johnson.

Be glad you’re in Utah. Governing Magazine has an interesting article about a study investigating one measure of state fiscal soundness – “how much each state spends on pension contributions for public workers, other post-employment benefits such as health insurance, and bonds as a percentage of state revenues, and what each state would have to spend to amortize the liability over 30 years assuming a 6 percent return on assets.”

That sounds complicated, but it basically measures each state’s capacity to pay off its long-term debt and obligations. Utah is in quite good shape, thanks to fiscally conservative governors and legislators. Some states, especially Connecticut, Kentucky, Illinois and New Jersey, are in terrible shape. Each would require more than 30 percent of revenues to amortize their liabilities over 30 years; Illinois would require nearly 40 percent.

The study calculated what would be required if each state were to “solve the problem exclusively with additional revenue, spending cuts or increased public-worker pension and retiree health insurance contributions. New Jersey would either need to increase revenues by 26 percent or cut spending by 24 percent; Connecticut would have to raise worker contributions by 699 percent. (That’s not a typo — nearly 700 percent.)” And there’s not a lot of room to expand revenues. Three of the four states in the worst trouble — Connecticut, Kentucky, and Illinois — already have tax rates that are among the nation’s highest.

Obama and the states: Unhappy relationship. Governing Magazine has an excellent (and lengthy) article about Pres. Obama and the states, a relationship that started smoothly, but quickly deteriorated. An excerpt:

“The following year’s midterm elections swept Republicans into power in 29 state legislatures, with most of the winners campaigning against the Obama administration and its policies. Within months of that election, conservative attorneys general unleashed a broadside of lawsuits against the administration on immigration, health-care, and air pollution rules. Obama’s Justice Department hauled states into court over immigration and voting rights. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker pulled the plug on a high-speed rail route the president wanted, and Obama blasted Walker for weakening unions. Tea Party activists accused the administration of flouting 10th Amendment guarantees of states’ rights, and the governor of Texas joked publicly about secession. A Democratic governor and a Republican governor argued in the presence of reporters in the White House driveway, and Arizona’s GOP governor poked Obama with an accusatory finger in front of Air Force One. Relations between the White House and the states had broken down quickly and thoroughly.

“It’s clear now that the Obama years will be remembered as a time when states and the federal government were rarely partners, as Obama had envisioned, but mostly adversaries.”

The Obama years have not been kind to those who champion balanced federalism.