policetapeplate_406x250Instead of sharing with you the names of the people the President-elect will be naming to all the food safety positions in the federal government, I thought I’d look through the other end of the telescope.

Who calls up the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the federal Centers for Disease Control to report a problem? Put aside the food industry reporting requirements, the calls that FDA and CDC most often respond to come from the nation’s 2,700 health departments.

Those departments are the first responders for food safety. When it comes to inspections, surveillance and response to outbreaks, these 2,700 so health departments are the tip of the of spear.

When you call your health department, it could be a state agency, or a city and/or county department, or a district with its own tax authority, or not. That’s why it can get a little confusing. Every time we investigate an outbreak, we also get another lesson in how different places organize their delivery of public health services.

For many, if not most states, state and local health departments rise or fall based on the support or lack of it from their governors and legislators, especially the ones that write budgets.  And state chief executives appoint state health commissioners, and sometimes they fill a whole slew of board positions.

Since 2010, Republicans have dominated the states, whether measured by governor’s mansions or statehouses. For sure, it has  but one measure of what is going on in the states. Public health should not be a partisan issue, and states that have excelled in the past usually find a way to continue to perform well.

Going into Tuesday’s elections, independent experts like those at the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures figured the historically high numbers being enjoyed by Republicans would have to give back some.    It was natural to figure that “everything that goes up, must come down.”

But up it went in Tuesday’s elections. There are now 4,141 state legislators elected under the GOP banner, up 32 from before the 2016 elections. The number elected as Democrats, meanwhile, was 3,110, down by 50 seats. This level of GOP dominance sets a new record. Not since the 1920s have Republicans held such large sway.

But the 2016 elections just  improved on the gap between seats held by Republicans and Democrats since 2010. Holding 1,031 more seats than the other party now means Republicans will control 69 of 98 partisan state legislative chambers, according to NCSL.

Democrats will control 30 chambers and one will be tied. The GOP controls both legislative chambers in 32 states, an all-time high. Democrats control both chambers in 13 states. Control is split or tied in the rest.

Not much really changed as a result of the elections. Three chambers — Kentucky House, Iowa Senate and Minnesota Senate — switched from Democratic to Republican control. Four chambers –New Mexico House, Nevada Assembly, Nevada Senate and Washington Senate — moved to Democratic control from Republican.

Because one Democrat Senator in Washington State may caucus with the GOP, that chamber functionally may not switch, and the Connecticut Senate looks to be tied. Republicans picked up three more state executive mansions from the Democrats for a 33-15 split on governors.

In 24 states Republicans control both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office. Democrats have such total control in only six states.

Again, this GOP dominance of the states began in 2010. It continues to status quo of governors and legislatures. As they effect the leadership and budgets of those 2,700 state and local health departments we spoke about earlier, it changes little.

State legislators are the back-benchers of the political system. And GOP’s back bench is a whole lot deeper than the Democrats.  A deep bench is a great advantage in politics as well as baseball.  As for the people getting the big food safety jobs in Washington, I’ll have to get back to you on that.


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