The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Democrats need to show they can be trusted with power

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams speaks to the media on June 24 in New York. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

“Social media does not pick a candidate. People on Social Security pick a candidate,” said Eric Adams, who is likely to be the next mayor of New York City after taking a commanding lead in this week’s Democratic primary. Adams was making a point that Democrats should take seriously. The party’s progressive wing makes noise and gets attention, but voters prefer pragmatists to ideologues. As big cities see a resurgence in violent crime — homicides were up more than 30 percent last year and another 24 percent so far this year — and as places struggle to revive growth and employment, the focus on governance will only heighten.

Today, the Democratic Party has total control of just 18 state legislatures, compared with 30 for Republicans. Democrats spent tens of millions of dollars to flip the legislatures in Arizona, North Carolina, Florida and Texas. They failed everywhere, and they even managed to lose control of New Hampshire’s legislature. Since states oversee redistricting and voting laws, the 2022 midterms look very tough for the Democrats.

Part of the issue is Republican advantages — the overrepresentation of rural areas, for example — but Democratic failures have also played a role. Put bluntly, too many Democratic states have gotten bloated, mismanaged and corrupt. Take New York state. It has a budget nearly twice the size of Florida’s though it has roughly the same population. Its budget is just 12 percent smaller than California’s despite having half as many people. Can anyone explain why?

This increased spending does not always pay off. Steven Malanga of the City Journal cites an analysis by the financial website WalletHub comparing tax revenues with the quality of public services such as infrastructure, education and health care. New York has the eighth-highest tax rate but ranks 19th in quality of services. California is sixth-highest on taxes and 37th on public services. States such as New Jersey and Massachusetts — despite massive spending — have some of the worst infrastructure in the country.

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Similarly, sky-high education spending in these states doesn’t always translate into better educational outcomes. As Ryan Fazio notes in the New York Post, New York spends nearly twice as much per pupil as the national average, and yet its fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math scores are no better.

Things have reached a tipping point. Around 14,000 businesses left California between 2009 and 2019. This seems to have gotten worse in the past few years with Tesla, Apple, Charles Schwab, Facebook, Oracle and Hewlett-Packard all announcing significant relocations to or expansions in Texas. In 2021, the top-ranked states for running a business, according to chief executives, were Texas, Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina and Indiana. The worst five were California, New York, Illinois, New Jersey and Washington. The pandemic has opened up horizons for companies that are now thinking more aggressively about relocations, remote workforces and flexible office approaches. All this bodes poorly for blue states.

It’s not just businesses that are leaving blue states; people are as well. For the first time on record, California’s population actually decreased last year. Illinois was one of the few states to see its population shrink over the past decade. As the Wall Street Journal observes, it can’t be the weather, since every other Midwestern state gained people over the same period. Meanwhile, Texas and Florida together swelled by more than 6 million people. All this translates into more political power. New York, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, West Virginia and Ohio will all lose congressional seats, while Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Montana, Colorado and Oregon will gain them. These shifts, plus redistricting, probably mean Democrats could lose the House even if they perform just as well in 2022 as they did in 2020.

Liberals don’t like to face squarely the issue of Democratic incompetence. New York, for example, handled the pandemic disastrously at the state and city level. As Ryan Cooper pointed out, New York state’s covid-19 deaths rose faster than those of any place on the planet at an equivalent point in their outbreaks. Its death rate per capita is nearly 60 percent higher than Florida’s. Yet New York’s leaders were feted as heroes. In an extensive investigation of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, ProPublica paints a devastating picture of serious mistakes, including the overruling of experts, combined with coverups and denial — in other words, many of the same errors for which former president Donald Trump was rightly excoriated.

The Democratic Party wants more government, for many good causes and reasons. But to gain the trust of people, it needs to first face up to its failures and work harder to show that it can effectively manage the governments it already runs. President Biden is doing that at the federal level. At the local level, New York City would be a good place to start.

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