Can Federalism Solve Partisan Polarization?

by Cloe Di Flumeri

There is never a universal answer when it comes to debates over the competing powers of the State and Federal Government. There is merit to be found on both sides of this quintessential American discussion– this debate which has shaped this nation since its conception. American politics has become a zero sum game, ruled by two dominant parties who seek to become the dominant party. How is any government supposed to serve the interests of its people when it divides those it represents across party lines? The answer is this: it does not, and it cannot. The current balance of federal power is a failure, but it is not a failure because the federal system is flawed by design, it is a failure because it is being run by self-interested parties. Thus, it is not a shifting of the political powers of the state and federal governments which will solve these problems but a shift towards bipartisanship and a dissolution of the two party hegemony in national politics.

The idea that a country should exist with power distributed between a broad national government and a localized state government is the foundational principle for American federalism. Under the American model of federalism, the Federal Government has supremacy over the governments of the states. This fact is guaranteed by Article VI of the American Constitution, which affirms that both the Federal Government and laws passed on the federal level are dominant to the state governments and their legislations. This positioning of the Federal Government as a centralized and encompassing body is extremely important to the wellbeing of the nation. The Federal Government offers consistency of constitutional interpretation, of laws, and of fundamental beliefs. Without it, the United States would simply be a conglomeration of loosely connected states warring with one another over ideological, economical, and constitutional discrepancies. Yet, contemporary federal politics have become anything but unifying.

Hyper-polarization and hyper-partisanship have become hallmark characteristics of the federal government in recent years. A coined termed by Lee Drutman, “negative partisanship,” illustrates just how divided America and American politics have become (Drutman 2020). Drutman asserts that one of the largest motivators behind contemporary political tensions is the nationalization of American politics. Most citizens pay very little to no attention at all to their state and local elections (Drutman 2018). Instead, citizens focus primarily on national elections and politics. This is due to the hugely sensationalized nature of national politics, a sensationalization decades in the making yet most clearly illustrated by recent presidential elections. Political culture has become increasingly divisive, both among average citizens and elected representatives. Rather than work across the aisle, legislators are perfectly content with letting bills die on the floors of the house and senate.

The Federal Government is in a sorry state, this much is true– hyper-polarization has effectively ruined its efficacy. Some see a shifting of power away from the federal government and towards the state government as a viable strategy to combat this issue. State governments are markedly less polarized, ineffective, and slow moving than the federal government. There certainly would be benefits to a concentration of power in the state system on those grounds. However, state governments are plagued by other issues such as rampant corruption and gerrymandering. Take Pennsylvania, for example. Republican lawmaker John Perzel infamously stole some 10 million taxpayer dollars to purchase technology he believed would help Republican campaigns in the state (Bumsted 2011). In another anecdote of Pennsylvania state corruption, Democrat Mike Dawida was caught using his own address for the “Business Institute for International Development,” a fake organization he created in order to receive a state grant of $900,000 for his own start up.

These two wily politicians who dipped into a buffet of taxpayer money are just the tip of the iceberg. State politics are ugly too– and not just because of corruption. State politicians use undemocratic redistricting techniques to wage war on one another, damaging the integrity of both our elections and our Democracy. Gerrymandering is a widespread issue, and is emblematic of the fact that state governments do not hold democracy any closer to their hearts than the federal government does (Washington Post 2017). Corruption and gerrymandering aside, it is important that we take into consideration the history of state consolidated power in this nation. The Articles of Confederation and their dramatic and embarrassing failure must be recognized as a cautionary tale. Without a dominant federal government, history is bound to repeat itself.

There exists an illusion in many minds that state governments, by nature, are inherently less corrupt and insidious than the federal government. This is simply untrue. Not only are state governments markedly corrupt, but consolidation of power vested into states over the federal government has resulted in, and will continue to result in, utter failure. The problems faced by the federal government are not failures of design, rather they are the result of the social, political, and economic developments of the past three hundred years. Chief among these developments is the two party system, and the subsequent phenomenon of contemporary hyper-partisanship. The hegemony of the Democratic and Republican parties over our legislatures on both the national and state level has been a corrupting influence. As stalemates continue, even in the face of an unprecedented pandemic, it is clear that the current system is not working. The truth holds however: the solution to the problems of the federal government cannot be derived from the state governments, but rather from a restructuring of the two party system and a greater shift towards party collaboration.


Comparing State COVID-19 Responses to Europe

by Elizabeth Yoder

            As the coronavirus is striking again reaching new record highs, the question going through everyone’s mind is what is going to start shutting down again? This is a question that leaders all over the world are facing and are forced to make the hard decision on what needs to close again.

            Looking at some of the countries in Europe that have shut we can see that most of those countries closed their restaurants and bars but kept their schools open for students to come and learn. They value education highly and think that it is important, especially for younger students, to be able to have that social interaction while they are learning so they can use those social interaction skills in the future. Students cannot gain those social interaction skills while they are doing their education online.

            However, some of the states in the United States are doing things a little differently. For example, the article brings up New York and talks about how New York is closing the schools and leaving restaurants and businesses open. The United States also thinks that education is important, but some of these cities are quicker to close schools then businesses because they are worried about the finances businesses face and don’t want more businesses to close for good so they will try to keep those open instead. Meanwhile, some other states are taking a similar approach to the countries in Europe and are keeping the schools open while shutting down businesses and restaurants. They also think that by closing the schools, it is keeping more families safe because the coronavirus will not be spread through schools.

            What are your thoughts on these plans that leaders both in Europe and the United States have to decide? Do you think it is more important to keep kids in school so they can have that social interaction while they get their education in person, or is it more important to keep businesses and restaurants open so they don’t have to worry about financial problems as much or the fear of closing for good if they don’t have the money to keep paying their bills?

Diversity, Inclusion and Small Business in Pennsylvania

Kayla Lewis

Back in June, (Democrat) Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania launched new policies to give more opportunity for smaller businesses to compete for state government contracts. These smaller businesses are run by minority women, LGBTQIA+, veterans,  and disabled groups. These policies will help these businesses be more established and accomplished in this economy.

            The mission of this policy, along with others like it, is to make the process more inclusive and diverse. Let’s face it, minority businesses are still sometimes overlooked and are not given the same resources as other businesses run by white, straight men. Gov. Wolf and his team launched a project in 2015 that introduced many policies regarding diversity and inclusion. It is known as the, “Diversity, Inclusion and Small Business Opportunities in Commonwealth Procurement and in Pennsylvania’s Economy” executive order. Overall it is meant to help smaller, minority-owned businesses have the same access to state contracts.

 This is a great initiative for the state of Pennsylvania and I hope that other states can be inspired (if they don’t already hold policies like this). Since minority- run businesses are on a rise, and have been for the past decade, policies need to implemented to ensure equality and equal opportunity.

Unemployment Insurance Hitting States Hard

The federal government added $600 a week to people’s Unemployment Compensation (UC) checks for the first several months of the pandemic to help bolster the economy. However, the sharp spike in unemployment rates hit the states hard as they had to disperse funds for the regular portion of UC. Now twenty states have started to borrow money from the federal government to cover costs.

Here’s the status of Pennsylvania, according to a Pew Stateline report: “Pennsylvania had just this year finished paying off $2.8 billion in bond funds borrowed for unemployment benefits in the Great Recession. Last week the state announced plans to borrow $2.8 billion in three months to get through October.”

Governor Wolf & High School Sports

by Angela Collins

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf vetoed a bill on Monday September 21, that if passed would’ve allowed schools to have the power to decide how many fans could be present at high school sports games. Governor Wolf had 10 days to either veto or pass the bill and Monday marked the 10th day. He made his feelings very clear at a media gathering, in which he stated that the virus is not a made up thing and politicians need to stop acting like they can wave a magic wand and suspend reality. Lawmakers are ready to override the bill. The House will reconvene on September 29th and can make the choice to override the veto. State Representative Mike Reese commented on Governor Wolfs decision to veto the bill. He believes that the Governor has a complete distrust in local officials and is implying he doesn’t trust them in making decisions. Reese also believes that Governor Wolf is telling the state that the virus is out to get us. Reese along with other sources believe he is inconsistent with the message that he is trying to portray. Once the bill is passed through the house it can make its way through the Senate and possibly, schools in Pennsylvania may be able to decide the amount of people at school gatherings, just not today.

NJ Transit Has a New Mobile App

by Cameron Carney  

            New Jersey Transit is the third largest public transit system in U.S. The NJ state government added a mobile app that can be downloaded through the agency’s travel app. This app is designed to show customers the upcoming train and bus schedule and how full it is. One will be able to tell the capacity of the train or bus by a small light indicating green (light ridership), yellow (medium) or red (heavy). The state says that each bus or train will be automatically updated to show accurate ridership. This feature was added on September 14, 2020 in efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. This feature helps customers make informed decisions on their travel plans. I believe this app can be successful in reducing congestion and the spread of COVID-19 if those who choose to participant in the app use it properly and for the better good of everyone.