But by this spring, the push for a larger conservative agenda was sinking into disputes about philosophy and details. In Missouri, which elected more Republican lawmakers in 2010 than at apparently any point in state history, members fought over how to cut spending, with the Senate killing a plan to eliminate a blind health care benefit and the House spiking a plan to pare back tax credits to developers. Other long-cherished conservative ideals, including an anti-union right-to-work initiative and tax breaks for students to attend private schools, went nowhere.
Tensions got so bad that near the end of the session, conservative Sen. Jason Crowell took to the Senate floor to publicly denounce certain Republicans as unworthy of the name.
"There's a few of us who went through the bad years — the foxhole years — who actually believe in what Republicans stand for," Crowell declared.
Conservatives did rack up some accomplishments. Despite the deep Republican divisions, Kansas' new governor, Sam Brownback, enacted one of the largest income tax cuts in state history. And Gov. Mitch Daniels proudly signed a measure making Indiana the Rust Belt's first right-to-work state, where paying union fees cannot be a condition of employment. Most notably, Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker won a recall election that amounted to a referendum on limiting labor union power.
In the hope of prodding more action on the conservative agenda, the American Conservative Union, which for years has rated the conservative credentials of members of Congress, now has begun doing the same for state lawmakers.
But until the balance of power shifts, policy changes in some GOP capitals may be limited.
In Minnesota, where GOP lawmakers approved a $1 billion stadium financing deal and a $500 million public works bill, conservative state Sen. Sean Nienow was left shaking his head. "We ended the session this year with two products not that different than what Democrats would have come up with if they were in charge," he said.
Associated Press writers Phil Rawls in Montgomery, Ala.; Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Miss.; Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City; Patrick Condon in Minneapolis; Grant Schulte in Lincoln, Neb.; Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, La.; John Hanna in Topeka, Kan.; Lucas Johnson in Nashville, Tenn.; and Bill Kaczor in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.