Short-lived history?

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Republicans hold a historic majority – both federally and in statehouses nationwide.

By Brandon VerVelde

This January, the Republican Party celebrated its near-historic domination of the federal government and state governments nationwide with the swearing in of President Donald J. Trump and the opening gavels of dozens of state legislatures across the country.

History tells us it could very well be short-lived.

All totaled, voters gave Republicans control of 32 state legislatures (both the state house and senate) and elected 33 Republican governors. In 25 states, they have the political trifecta – control of both chambers of the legislature and the governor – giving them wide leeway to quickly enact their agenda without compromise.

Their dominance reaches far and wide: from the Desert Southwest  to the plains of the Midwest; from the Rust Belt of the Great Lakes to their almost universal dominance of the South. Even in the liberal Northeast, Republicans have a trifecta in New Hampshire.

By comparison, the Democratic Party enjoys just six political trifectas and those are limited to just the east and west coasts and Hawaii. There are just 16 Democratic governors.

As much as Republicans are celebrating their hard-fought victories and Democrats are mourning their gut-wrenching losses, both sides could learn a lesson from the history books. In fact, lesson number one comes from just eight years earlier.

When Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, the Democratic Party enjoyed a historic high-water mark. Their party enjoyed control of 27 state legislatures, 28 gov­ernors’ mansions and held 16 state trifectas. Their party had just sworn in large majorities in the U.S. House and Senate and was led by the first African-American to hold the office of the president – something truly historic.

And they used their newfound emergence into power. Obama signed into law major overhauls of the banking and financial system, a bailout of the auto manufacturing industry, a $1 trillion economic stimulus spending bill and his signature healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), all in the first two years.

The pendulum of power swung hard in the other direction. Starting in 2009 and peaking in 2010, there was a Republican wave that swept the nation. Republicans gained a dozen governorships, 13 state legislatures and achieved a trifecta in 20 states. They regained the majority in the U.S. House and narrowed the Democratic control of the U.S. Senate.

This back and forth has been repeated throughout recent history. Following the 2004 re-election of President George W. Bush, the Republicans enjoyed large majorities in both chambers of Congress only to see Democrats sweep the 2006 midterms. Following Democrat Bill Clinton’s defeat of incumbent Republican President George H.W. Bush in 1992, Republicans were swept back into control of Congress in 1994.

Though not without exceptions – the younger Bush successfully led his party to gain seats in the 2002 midterm elections – the party in power should probably only count on two years to enact their agenda. And the party out of power can look forward to – but work hard towards – a favorable election less than two years away.

Republicans are working to quickly enact their agenda
If history holds true, then Republicans have two years to advance their agenda. Conservative outside groups are keeping one word in mind: accountability.

Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative grassroots organizing and advocacy group founded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, puts it simply: “We’ve had promises, especially on controlling spending, from Republicans, and it’s time for them to really keep their word,” Phillips said to the Washington Post. “The Republicans have enormous opportunity. With that opportunity does come high expectations, and we’re hopeful they’re going to meet those expectations.”

Other conservative groups that generally align with Americans for Prosperity, like FreedomWorks and Americans for Tax Reform, are leading the charge on many conservative wish-list items. Among them is reforming the tax code, which they say is overly complex and full of loopholes that favor special interests.

“[Americans for Prosperity] plans to advocate for fixing the nation’s broken tax code to make it work better for families and businesses across the country,” reads the group’s website. “To achieve this, [we]will promote solutions that bring simplicity and neutrality to the tax code.”

Despite some media reports of friction between the leaders – Trump, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R, Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, Ky.) – others say their individual policy goals have never been closer.

American for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist said, “We are very close to enacting fundamental tax reform. The Trump team and Congress have been moving towards each other for months.”

One of the possible tax provisions on the cutting board is section 1031, which authorizes like-kind exchanges used by many in real estate, including many hotel owners. Fortunately, AAHOA has an ally in Norquist, who tweeted in December that “like-kind exchanges promote entrepreneurship” and that doing away with the provision would “hurt small businesses and reduce economic growth.”

Democrats are rebuilding, pushing back against Trump
While Republicans are rallying behind enacting their agenda, Democrats, as Politico magazine put it in January, are “in the wilderness” with a party that’s been “decimated.”

As to what went wrong in 2016 – an election that seemed certain to go their way all the way through the final moments of the campaign – Democrats are divided.

“Democrats failed to listen sufficiently to voters,” declared Gretchen Whitmer, the former state senate Democratic leader in Michigan.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D, Ohio) said the party either “outright offend[ed]or least fail[ed]to inspire nearly every segment of our party’s base voters.” After the election, Ryan mounted a Quixotic bid to takeover for Nancy Pelosi as the Democratic leader in the House. He received 63 votes to her 134.

Whatever the fault of the dismal election results, the party needs to find a way to rebuild, says Michael Cooper, Jr., in a U.S. News & World Report op-ed.

His prescription for a new Democratic Party includes “bold policies” built on the principles of empowering people over the powerful. He urged the party to organize locally and use the grassroots momentum to build a new, bottom-up national party.

Not satisfied to let only conservative outside groups hold officials accountable, liberal-leaning groups like Democracy for America – founded by former Democratic presidential candidate and past chair of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean – see their role as urging Democratic senators to block or otherwise stymie the Republican agenda to run out the clock until the 2018 midterms.

Democracy for America Executive Director Charles Chamberlain was blunt.

“We demand total opposition to all of Trump’s appointees, to Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court and to any legislation coming out of the Trump administration,” Chamberlain told the Washington Post.

Regardless of party, now’s the time to engage
Something that unites Republicans, Democrats and independents alike in the AAHOA community is their shared commitment to working to better the hospitality industry.

That’s why AAHOA hosts two annual fly-ins to Washington, says Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AAHOA.

“AAHOA members, when they engage in as little as opening and responding to an email action alert, they’re making a difference for our industry,” Rogers said. “When an AAHOA member takes time to come to Washington for our two annual legislative conferences, their impact is even greater.”

There are even more ways to get involved politically, Rogers added. There’s donating to the AAHOA political action committee, which pools resources to support a bipartisan slate of local, state and federal candidates each election. AAHOA also works with state lodging associations to organize events in state capitols for hoteliers to meet and talk with state lawmakers.

As for whether the 2018 elections will become a rebirth of the Democratic Party (as history suggests it will) or whether the Republicans will be able to buck the trend, only time will tell. But there’s no time to waste in getting involved. A good place to start is AAHOA’s Legislative Action Summit on May 17 and 18 in Washington. Visit AAHOA.com to register today.               ■

Brandon VerVelde is the Director of State and Local Government Affairs for AAHOA and can be reached at brandon@aahoa.com.

Save the date!

May 17-18, 2017
Legislative Action Summit
Capital Hilton, Washington, D.C.

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