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Government shutdown: Is it making red and blue states more purple? (+video)

With the federal government shutdown suspending services and closing facilities, state leaders of both parties are moderating their positions to help constituents through this challenging time. 

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Of course, politics play into all these decisions, points out government policy attorney Leonard Wolfe, from the law firm Dykema in Lansing, Mich.

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“Politicians who are up for reelection want to show that they are in control of their state,” he says, adding that the average voter does not make distinctions about where the money comes from for their government services.

“People want to know why they can’t get into their parks or get their benefits check,” he says, adding that they are not interested in partisanship. “They expect their local politicians to be able to help,” says Mr. Wolfe. Consequently, he notes, politicians are making gestures that say, “I am in control here.”

“They are separating themselves from what is going on in Washington,” he adds.

Attuned to this grassroots mood, Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey just released a campaign ad with the slogan, “compromise is not a dirty word.”

There are limits, however, to how much local politicians can “bail out” the federal government, even when they are so inclined, points out Christine Kelleher-Palus, associate professor and chair of Villanova University’s Department of Public Administration in Philadelphia.

The recent economic downturn has left states in a very difficult position, she says via e-mail, and they are struggling in many areas because of the shutdown.

“States are doing a lot of analyses and contingency planning – trying to figure out how individual programs are affected, and for how long they can be sustained,” she says.

New Jersey’s Governor Christie has been unpredictable for a while, points out political analyst Barbara O’Connor, director emeritus of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento.

“He terrifies Republicans because they can’t count on him to toe the party line,” she notes. But, she says, with the safety net being threatened for an ever-widening group of constituents, “we are facing an interesting dynamic with politicians. There are more and more willing to do the helpful thing.”

She points out that in California, Governor Brown has also been a source of unexpected moves, a course she expects to continue.

“Remember that he is a Jesuit who lived with Mother Teresa” and might be expected to take a progressive party line, yet he has held the line on expenses and been touted for his frugality.

The bigger question, she says, is how more extreme politicians will respond as the shared pain spreads among constituents. “It’s an interesting drama and we don’t know how it will play out.”

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