The Real Governments of Blue America

Officially, a big part of the federal government shut down late last month. In important ways, however, America’s government went AWOL almost two years earlier, when Donald Trump was inaugurated.

After all, politicians supposedly seek office in order to get stuff done — to tackle real problems and implement solutions. But neither Trump, who spends his energy inventing crises at the border, nor the Republicans who controlled Congress for two years have done any of that. Their only major legislative achievement was a tax cut that blew up the deficit without, as far as anyone can tell, doing anything to enhance the economy’s long-run growth prospects.

Meanwhile, there has been no hint of the infrastructure plan Trump promised to deliver. And after many years of denouncing Obamacare and promising to provide a far better replacement, Republicans turned out to have no idea how to do that, and in particular no plan to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions.

Why can’t Republicans govern? It’s not just that their party is committed to an ideology that says that government is always the problem, never the solution. Beyond that, they have systematically deprived themselves of the ability to analyze policies and learn from evidence, because hard thinking might lead someone to question received doctrine.

And Republicans still control the Senate and the White House. So even when (if?) the shutdown ends, it will be at least two years before we have a government in Washington that’s actually capable of, or even interested in, governing.

Until recently Republicans had a virtual lock on state government. Almost half the population lived in states with Republican “trifectas,” that is, G.O.P. control of both houses plus the governorship. Democrats had comparable control in California, and pretty much nowhere else.

But elections since then have transformed the picture. New Jersey and Washington went full Democratic in 2017, and six more states, including Illinois and New York, flipped in November. At this point more than a third of Americans live under full Democratic control, not far short of the Republican total.

These newly empowered majorities are moving quickly to start governing again. And the experience of states that already had Democratic trifectas suggests that they may achieve a lot.

And health care isn’t the only front for new action. For example, Newsom is also proposing major new spending on education and housing affordability. The latter is very important: Soaring housing costs are the biggest flaw in California’s otherwise impressive success story.

Now, let’s be clear: Not all of the new Democratic policy proposals will actually be implemented, and not all of those that do go into effect will live up to expectations. There’s no such thing as perfection, in policy or in life, and leaders who never experience failures or setbacks aren’t taking enough risks.

The point, however, is that newly empowered state and local politicians do seem willing to take risks and try new things in an effort to make progress against the nation’s problems.

And that’s a very hopeful sign for America, because their example may prove contagious.

Justice Louis Brandeis famously described the states as the laboratories of democracy; right now they’re the places where we’re seeing what it looks like when elected officials try to do what they were elected to do, and actually govern. If we’re lucky, two years from now that attitude may re-establish itself in the nation’s capital.

 

Mayor Accused of Trying to Intimidate Investigations Commissioner

Mayor Bill de Blasio and his senior staff repeatedly tried to pressure the commissioner of New York City’s top watchdog agency into not releasing critical reports about his administration, the commissioner said Monday.

Days after being fired from his job as the head of the Department of Investigation, Mark Peters said in a letter to the City Council that the mayor and at least two deputy mayors upbraided him on several occasions during his time in the post, accusing him of disloyalty and questioning whether he was “still a friend” to Mr. de Blasio.

Each rebuke, Mr. Peters said, came right before his agency released reports critical of the administration, including a November 2017 report on the city failing to conduct proper lead inspections at its public-housing developments and an April 2017 report about the misuse of city-owned cars by top brass at the Department of Correction.

“On several occasions the mayor and his most senior staff have expressed visible anger at me over certain DOI investigations,” Mr. Peters said in the letter. “They have requested that I not issue certain reports, and when I declined to do so they took actions to demonstrate their anger in ways that were clearly designed to be intimidating.”

Mr. Peters said the intimidation turned to punishment on Friday, when Mr. de Blasio fired him as commissioner and replaced him with Margaret Garnett, New York’s executive deputy attorney general for criminal justice and a former federal prosecutor. His dismissal from the position he had held since 2014 was a way to silence him and thwart coming investigations that pertain to the mayor and his senior staff, according to the letter.

.. Under city rules, he was allowed to provide a public response to his firing.

.. In firing Mr. Peters, the mayor cited an independent probe’s determination that Mr. Peters abused his power earlier this year when he tried to absorb an investigative agency for the city’s Education Department into the DOI. Two people whom Mr. Peters fired during that reconfiguration filed whistleblower claims.

Following the release of the independent probe’s findings last month, Mr. Peters issued a public apology and admitted his actions were wrong.