The U.S. is touted as the promoter of democracy. The U.S. had granted voting rights to women on August 18th, 1920 （Congress ratified the 19th Constitution Amendment), thus making her a truly democratic nation for ninety eight years. (all citizens, male, white, black and female, having voting right) The U.S. had parted from Great Britain as a colony since 1776; she is a 243 year old independent nation. The New York State was one of the earliest States joining the independence movement and she joined the federation on July 26, 1778 (ratified). Another big State, California was admitted to the federation on September 9, 1850, 168 years ago and the last two states, Alaska and Hawaii were admitted on Jan 3rd and August 21, 1959 respectively, merely fifty nine years ago. So, historically speaking, the U.S. is a young nation and her practice of democracy (one person one vote) as a decision tool to elect the officials of the tri-branch government, executive, legislative and judicial branches, is less than a century old.
Each state has a similar tri-branch government system with key officials elected by a democratic voting method. Thus governor, mayor or leader of local government in the executive branch, the legislators in the legislative branch and in some cases, various court judges in the judicial branch are elected by the citizens, and in other cases, judges are nominated by the head of executive branch and approved by the legislative branch. What the U.S. promotes is not so much as the tri-branch government system (since they have existed in history with varying degree of independence between branches) but the democracy – a method of selecting the officials by citizens’ votes. Presumably the direct voting method, one person one vote, will create a more independent tri-branch system and that is what the U.S. is promoting in the world. However, the citizens’ voting rights whether exercised directly or by delegation are influenced by political parties which unfortunately are increasingly controlled or dictated by money power through the political party machinery, the political elites and the media. If multiple political parties truly existed advocating different ideology without influence from money power, then we would expect that the citizens could exercise their choice to elect a set of government officials according to their preferences to serve in an effective tri-branch government system. Well, life is not so simple, is it?
I have lived in New York State for fifty-one years since I completed my graduate studies, which means over 20% of its 247 years history in the independent U.S. (Some of my cotemporary friends living in California and Alaska or Hawaii for fifty-one years can claim 30% and 84% respectively, a very significant portion) Politically, I was not active initially, growing up from little political interest to be an independent, then leaning towards conservative Republican in terms of political ideal. New York State has been governed by a divided government since mid seventies up to 2019, 45 years. A divided government means that the governor and the two legislative branches, the Senate and the Assembly, are not controlled by the same political party and unfortunately they don’t work very well together. Prior to 70’s since WW II, New York State was governed by a ‘trifectas’ government, three government branches all controlled by the same party. There was no rigorous research studying the effectiveness or economic outcome of New York State throughout the years mentioned above. However, from a citizen’s point of view, many New Yorkers including me feel that the State has been going downhill during the past four and half decades under a divided government. Industries and manufacturing are disappearing and people are migrating to other states.
Like the U.S. federal government, New York State has two legislative houses. The Assembly members are elected from 150 districts of population average about 128,652 per district. Since mid 70’s, the NY Assembly has always been controlled by the party of Democrats (D) with a large margin mainly supported by the population in New York City. The NY State Senate has 63 districts of geographic regions. The Republican Party (R) barely has control by having 32 seats or by coalition of caucuses to gain effective control. The devastating performance of New York government with high taxes, deteriorating infrastructure, high cost of living and inadequate services can only be attributed to the dysfunction of a divided government. The Assembly has always been locked by Democrats elected by the large liberal NY City population.
Taking a look at another big state, Texas, it had a trifectas government (either D or R) from 1874 to 1994 except when Bill Clements, a Republican, served as governor intermittently from 1979-1982 and 1987-1990 all with a Democrat legislature. From 1995 to 2000, George W. Bush (R), served as Governor and turned the Texas Senate Republican during his tenure. Then Rick Perry (2001-2014) and Greg Abbott, both Republicans served with a Republican legislature, followed a trifectas government. Without rigorous research data, one can only say that Texas State has not done badly under a trifectas government either with Democrats or Republicans.
Taking another look at the State of California, it also had mostly a trifectas government since 1849 to 1942 with only a few times of divided government. From 1943 to 1982, California continued trifectas government with both Republican and Democrat governors. When George Deukmejian and Peter Wilson, both Republicans took over from Governor Jerry Brown (D), they both had a Democrat Legislature thus a divided government. Greg Davis (D) served a full term with Democrat legislature but Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) had a Democrat legislature. Currently, Jerry Brown (2011-2018 D) is back with a Democrat trifectas government. It would be extremely interesting for political science students to do research comparing the government effectiveness of a Republican, a Democrat trifectas government versus a divided government for California so that California voters can appreciate the benefit of a trifectas government and which party did it better.
Even though I am living in a town with more conservative people with a majority voters registered as Republicans, I felt like living in a dictator State controlled by an ineffective divided government. My vote is powerless to change Albany into an effective trifectas state government. The large population in New York City locks the State Assembly. Essentially, the single city is controlling the fate of the entire New York State which is decaying day by day. Yes, New Yorkers have the freedom to move to Texas or Carolinas or California but the same phenomenon is appearing at the national level. That is, our federal government is working poorly as a divided government. My hunch is, with increasing frequency of divided state government happening in more states, the fate of the U.S. is very much like that of New York State. Thus, no matter where you go you feel like living in a dictator country except the dictator is a party courting and controlling votes of the populated cities and states. It is damn hard to change that trend.
If one person one vote is the true democratic method we use to construct our government, then fair to say, it is trending to a divided government as population grows and clusters. When a divided government is locked in for decades by one party, we can say that we have a dictator government except it is an ineffective one. Sad to admit it, I feel like living in a dictator state! Do you feel the same?