Liberals Can’t Afford to Ignore 2014


It’s a natural temptation for even seasoned progressives to embrace the narrative of an Obama-led, second-term, Democratic golden age.

Indeed Party faithful who spent the President’s first four years waiting for the fire-in-the-belly candidate they thought they were getting are understandably giddy at progressive advances over the past two.

But oft forgotten in all the liberal revelry is the 2014 shellacking state-level Democrats received at the hands of their conservative counterparts – net gains that further solidified control in red-state legislatures and thinned Democratic ranks in others.

How bad was the progressive trip to the off-year GOP woodshed? Of the 77 state legislative bodies up for grabs, 61 saw Republican gains while Dems captured a paltry 10.

Taking the measure of these wins, Bruce Walker, contributor to the staunchly conservative online magazine American Thinker cites the impact of so many Republican routs – some in states liberals historically consider safe bets:

“This [election cycle] translated into shifting control of ten legislative chambers from Democrat to Republican: the State Senate in Washington, Colorado, Nevada, Maine, and New York and the State House of Representatives in New Mexico, Nevada, Minnesota, West Virginia and New Hampshire.

Republican power in state legislatures is at the highest point in a century, both in the number of chambers controlled and also in the number of Republicans in state legislature – important facts that tend to be submerged in higher profile races.”

If Walker and similarly minded conservatives sound as though they’re still gloating 12 months on it’s because sweeping national Democratic victories be damned, newly reinforced GOP state legislators are taking the battle to their liberal colleagues on immigration, gun control, abortion, climate change and corporate personhood.

While the fallout from so many Republican gains continues, Democratic state parties have since begun sifting through the reasons so many seats were lost – some within their power to change, others beyond their control: massively disproportionate special interest underwriting favoring Republican candidates; GOP-driven gerrymandering; shifting demographics; complacency in historically Democratic districts; spotty vetting of candidates and widespread anti-Obama sentiment.

Whatever the cause for the Democratic debacle of 2014, some of the party’s best and brightest were lost to campaigns that may be their last.

This (mostly millennial) liberal brain drain is further characterized in a January 2015 article from Governing magazine’s Alan Greenblatt as he quotes a Nevada pundit whose observations on the 2014 elections should chill state Democratic committees:

“You can’t beat something with nothing. That’s the problem Democrats face in several states. In more than 20 states, there’s not a single Democrat in a top state position — and not just in traditionally red states such as Arizona, North Dakota and Texas, but in more competitive states like Florida, Michigan and Ohio as well.

“‘This election wiped out some of the really promising, up-and-coming Democratic officials,’ says Jon Ralston, a prominent commentator on politics in Nevada, where the GOP swept the board in November. ‘They have a serious rebuilding process to undergo right now. That process could take years.’”

Contrast this dim prediction with the fact younger Republican candidates are meanwhile amassing both experience and connections in the GOP minor leagues.

Progressives who celebrate the preservation of the new health care system and long overdue establishment of equal marriage should not remove their party hats just yet. No harm is done by basking in the light of such hard-won victories.

But neither should they underestimate the seismic shifts taking place at the state level – shifts neither they nor the country can afford to ignore.

Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister and substance abuse counselor living in Jackson, Ohio. Email donaldlrollins@

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2015

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