Last November, the GOP regained control of the U.S. Senate and expanded its majority in the House of Representatives to a size that seemed unimaginable when President Obama moved into the White House in 2009. But the most important and lasting story from Election Day may not involve Washington, D.C., at all, but rather state capitals, where Republicans dramatically expanded their grip on state policymaking throughout the country.

Republicans now control 31 governors’ mansions. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars worth of spending by organized labor and other liberal interest groups, top-tier Republican governors in states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida and Ohio were re-elected—proving strong public policy records and leadership on tough issues can trump well-funded negative campaigns. Additionally, successful Republican gubernatorial candidates in Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts showed that even in blue states, voters are willing to reward candidates who view job creation as an important engine for economic growth instead of supporting uncontrolled government spending.

Republican gains in state legislatures were even more striking. As a result of the election, there will be more GOP state legislators and more GOP-controlled legislative chambers than at any point since the 1920s. Republicans now control 69 state legislative chambers. In contrast, Democrats only enjoy complete control in seven state capitals. This environment will dramatically limit the playing field for organized labor and its allies to advance their agenda.

The state-level wins for the GOP are important for two reasons. First, while Washington, D.C., struggles to break through gridlock, state lawmakers are adopting critical new laws that impact the construction industry. Since 2010, the most important lawmaking for the merit shop community happened in cities such as Nashville, Tenn.; Lansing, Mich.; Montgomery, Ala.; and Sacramento, Calif. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, elected state officials passed about 20 times more bills than their counterparts in Congress.

While U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) promises to help Congress get back to work for the American people, President Obama’s veto pen likely will make progress in Washington difficult through the 2016 presidential election. As a result, the action will continue to be at the state level for at least the next two years.

The second reason the GOP wins are important is less obvious, but equally critical. State lawmakers are the proverbial farm team for federal and statewide office. Republican efforts to win state-level office—particularly in the legislatures—has yielded one of the largest and most diverse benches for higher office in the history of the party. This should pay dividends for the Republican Party in 2016 and beyond.

Turning Political Victories Into Public Policy Victories
Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) is working hard to leverage the political environment into public policies that help construction companies win work and deliver that work safely, ethically and profitably for the communities in which they do business. The centerpiece will continue to be the effort to guarantee government neutrality with regard to project labor agreement (PLA) mandates on public and taxpayer-funded projects throughout the country. Since 2011, 17 states have adopted ABC’s PLA reform proposal. As a result of these successes, PLA mandates on taxpayer-funded work are now prohibited to some degree in 21 states. These statutes and executive orders will protect more than $62 billion worth of taxpayer-funded construction spending annually from the threat of wasteful and discriminatory PLA mandates. 

The 2014 elections created new opportunities for ABC to work with state legislators in politically favorable states to ensure fair and open competition for taxpayer-funded construction projects. For example, ABC will be pursuing PLA reform legislation in states such as Nevada and West Virginia, which have a history of PLA activity. Additionally, ABC will continue to work with legislators to enact PLA reform bills in states where Republican majorities grew in November, including Texas and Ohio. Finally, ABC will work with new Republican governors in traditionally blue states to limit the impact of executive orders and statutes encouraging the use of PLA mandates on public projects.

The elections also created opportunities to curtail or repeal state prevailing wage requirements. These requirements unnecessarily inflate construction wages beyond market scale on some publicly funded construction projects, leaving taxpayers to pick up the added costs. ABC believes there are opportunities to repeal or amend prevailing wage requirements in several states, particularly in the Midwest, and plans to work with state legislators to enact these changes for taxpayers and the construction community.


Andy Conlin is director of state and local government affairs for Associated Builders and Contractors. For more information, email conlin@abc.org.