Wisconsin’s passage of right-to-work legislation has infuriated the Democratic Party for more than the usual reasons. It’s not just that the law will weaken labor unions in a state where they often make the difference between victory and defeat. It’s not just that unionized workers tend to make more money than their “liberated” peers. It’s not even that Governor Scott Walker successfully snookered the electorate, and signed the legislation after insisting, many times, that it was not a priority if he won a second term. (For whatever it’s worth, Walker also said during the campaign that he would remain focused on a full Madison term, not a presidential bid.) No, what makes progressives nervous is that the Republicans who run most of the states can govern with impunity until at least 2017, and perhaps 2023. One reason Walker was in the position to sign right-to-work on Monday was that the GOP’s 2010 Wisconsin sweep allowed its legislators to draw district lines that made it prohibitively hard for Democrats to win.
The electorate of 2012 went to the polls and narrowly gave Wisconsin’s Democratic candidates a majority of their votes. Those votes were largely wasted in safe seats; new district lines made sure that the GOP took over the state Senate. In every state conquered by the GOP recently, Republicans are passing long-stalled conservative bills with little fear of backlash.
That’s why a long-running Democratic nightmare is repeating in Michigan. In 2011, that state’s Republicans joined Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin in considering legislation to split up the state’s electoral votes by congressional districts. While Democratic gubernatorial wins in Pennsylvania and Virginia have ended the push in those states, last week saw an electoral vote-splitting bill come back to the Michigan legislature. House Bill 4310 would assign one presidential elector to the winner of each district and two to the winner of the state. Had this system been in place in 2012, Mitt Romney would have lost Michigan by nearly 450,000 of 4.7 million votes, but walked away with nine of the state’s 16 electoral votes.