11/05/2013 09:10 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Governor's Races In 2013-14 Offer Dems a Huge Opportunity to Retake Control of Some Key State Governments

The nation was clearly distracted to the point of despair with the recent shutdown of the federal government -- perpetrated by a radical, lunatic fringe of Tea Party Republicans in Congress -- which lasted for 16 days and leveled great suffering across our country. Hundred of thousands of government workers were furloughed, and countless programs that make our lives better were suspended. The cost of the shutdown to our economy is estimated to be $24 billion, money we can ill-afford to waste and which could have funded so many critical programs. Yet even under these extreme conditions -- which so clearly defined the differences between the parties -- there has been no messaging from the Dems about what those lost dollars would mean in human terms, or why it even matters that government exists and functions in the first place.

The Democratic Party's main messenger is New York Senator Chuck Schumer, and he must up his game. The messaging from Dems, quite frankly, stinks, as they still cannot seem to make the case for the very need for government and the positive effect it has on our lives. Meanwhile, the right wing has become quite skilled at messaging about government's perceived failures -- mostly through cock-and-bull fantasies created by well-paid spin-meisters under the employ of billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, with Fox News front and center orchestrating the fiction.

So how did we get here? Well, the Supreme Court's disastrous decision on Citizens United certainly helped. But another major culprit is gerrymandering of House districts at the state level, which creates districts - particularly in the red states - that ensure permanent, one-party majorities, which, in turn, have allowed these Tea Party loons to wreak havoc on our federal legislative system. The GOP learned some time ago that if you really want to make "change" in Washington, you need to start at home, and they have been aggressive in taking control of governor's mansions and state legislatures across the country ever since, including those in some traditionally "blue" states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

While many may not realize it, today is Election Day around the country at local and state levels. In both an off-Presidential and off-Congressional year, will we see another dismal turnout? During the second term of a presidential administration, these off-year election turnout numbers tend to tank even further. This trend must be reversed. The Dems have a strong hand to play this year and next, with some interesting races that could portend and solidify the next presidential race in 2016.

According to the Democratic Governors Association, twenty-four of the thirty-eight governors' races in the next year will be in states that currently have Republican governors. Two of those races will be decided today, one in Virginia and the other in New Jersey. The race getting considerable coverage is in suddenly swing-state Virginia, with former DNC Chair and longtime Clinton pal Terry McAuliffe running against Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, one of the most regressive right wing extremists out there, a man who marches in lockstep with the Tea Party and supports all of their "anti" positions against women, the poor, immigrants, workers - you name it. A win here for either side could be a harbinger to the race for the White House in 2016, as Virginia is now a battleground state with an importance in presidential electoral politics that cannot be understated.

It is certain that to assure victory in the governor's races in such key swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida, right-wing sponsored voter suppression tactics will be on full display. In North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory is being backed by those monstrous Koch brothers and their front group, Americans For Prosperity. Governor McCrory has recently signed into law one of the most restrictive voter-suppression bills in the nation that would potentially prevent 319,000 North Carolinians without government issued ID's from voting. The vast majority of these voters overwhelmingly support Democrats, and it is worth recalling that President Obama won North Carolina with a 14,000-vote majority in 2008, so it is clear the GOP is trying to prevent another upset in 2014 with this scam. The Democratic Governors Association is going all out to support Democrats in taking back these governor's seats - a huge task against the unlimited money being poured into these races by the Kochs and other usual suspects through their shady, out-of-state Super PAC's.

So just how do these state races affect our lives? Well, one example is the twenty-seven states that have refused to extend Medicaid benefits offered under Obamacare. Another example is the thirty-six states that still have state-level marriage equality barriers, despite the Supreme Court striking down DOMA. You can also point to the 180 restrictive voting rights laws that have been introduced since 2011 by all of those GOP-controlled legislatures - including the six states that introduced voter suppression laws within days of the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965, making it harder for millions to vote. And let us not forget the outrageous laws being passed in several states that restrict a woman's right to make her own decisions regarding her reproductive health. From one of those battles has come a new and inspiring national heroine in the form of Wendy Davis, a Texas state senator who filibustered her way to national attention fighting against Governor Rick Perry's particularly ugly crusade against women. She eventually lost that battle in the legislature, but garnered national attention and support for her gubernatorial run in 2014. Thankfully, Rick Perry is retiring, so Wendy could have a real shot to turn this governor's seat blue - do we have another Ann Richards in the making? She has certainly been building grassroots support nationwide, including from numerous progressive non-profit organizations.

DGA Chair Peter Shumlin sees fourteen governor's seats remaining in Democratic hands next year, and he is looking to make gains in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maine, South Carolina and Florida, as well as longer shot opportunities in Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa. Shumlin, a two-term Vermont governor, is also up for re-election himself next year. Of those thirty GOP governors, nineteen are running for re-election between now and 2014, many in states won by President Obama in last year's election. Shumlin has said, "...the midterms would be a referendum on right wing governors constrained by a radical social agenda." These right-wing governors have been a unified voice in thwarting immigration reform, women's rights, workers' rights, voting rights, marriage equality, job growth and healthcare, while also consistently opposing fair taxation on the rich and denying climate change and its devastating effects on their states and our nation - the list goes on and on as they work in concert with their brothers and sisters in Congress to advance the radical Tea Party agenda.

It will be some more months before primary gubernatorial challengers for many of these GOP incumbents are known. Florida Governor Rick Scott will likely face Tea Party opposition for his support of the ACA Medicaid expansion. In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder will have to defend his union-busting "right-to-work" legislation of last year, and more recently the bankruptcy filing by the city of Detroit - once the crown jewel of his state's industrial might. Even so, Republican Governor's Association chair and potential 2016 presidential candidate Bobby Jindal is confident both Scott and Snyder will prevail in their re-election battles. And in New Jersey, will we see Governor Chris Christie become a presidential candidate in 2016? He is expected to easily win reelection as New Jersey governor today, but it will be interesting to see if he will remain and finish out his second term, or bolt for a presidential run. Jindal, never at a loss for words, further prognosticates that Republican governors like Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio will win their races on what he called the "products of their reforms." Now that is messaging with chutzpah. Are you paying attention Democrats?

We, the voting public, can't sit on the sidelines over the next year, given what is at stake in these state races. This could signal the beginning of our retaking our government back, but there is plenty of work ahead -- for all of us.

- with Jonathan Stone