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Tuesday's Lesson: Bold State Leadership Needed More than Ever

Gridlock.  Slow fulfillment of promises of change in D.C.  A health care bill so compromised that even supporters are unhappy with many details. 

Frustration with D.C. seemed to be the clearest message from Massachusetts voters on Tuesday.

But what can we expect other than gridlock and resistance when a 59-seat super-majority in the U.S. Senate is insufficient to pass serious legislation?  Or when monied interests in D.C. buy off support to block serious reforms on financial regulations, health care and climate change legislation?

As we noted in our report Why States Matter, the filibuster allows as few as 3% of the total U.S. population to potentially elect representatives able to block the will of the other 97% of the population.  In practice, filibusters are put together with a hodgepodge of states representing larger minorities of the population, but when corporate special interests start with such a low threshold of votes needed to preserve the status quo, it's hardly surprising that federal inaction, diluted compromises and voter frustration is the norm. 

This is why bold, progressive leadership in the states matters. 

States Move National Policy:  Generally able to take action with a majority vote in their statehouses, states have always been where progressive policy moves forward.  And when multiple states act, it creates a wave of reform that can ultimately drive federal action despite the filibuster and minority resistance.

  • The federal minimum wage was raised in 2007 only after states representing a majority of the population passed their own minimum wage increases.
  • Health care reform is only being considered in D.C. because states across the country have expanded coverage in recent years and enacted insurance reforms like bans on preexisting conditions and medical loss rations -- provisions ultimately incorporated into federal bills.
  • Serious federal movement on climate change only followed multiple states in the Northeast and West enacting their own cap-and-trade bills to reduce greenhouse gases.

Making the Progressive Case in the States:  Without the filibuster diluting every bill, states are also where voters can see progressive values embodied. 

The right-wing has long understood the power of messaging through state policy.  Whether on gay marriage, abortion, immigration, or anti-tax policy, the right-wing doesn't even bother having a federal agenda other than saying "no" to all reforms, but they deliver their message to their voters through state initiatives attacking abortion rights, banning gay marriage, scapegoating immigrants, and trying to slash state taxes. 

Progressives need to be equally bold in using state policy to make clear our values to voters.  By promoting and enacting progressive policy in the states, we can overcome the frustration people feel with D.C. due to compromises forced by the filibuster.  

PSN Taking Action:  It was for this reason that Progressive States Network was formed just over four years ago, because legislators and allied progressive organizations wanted to more effectively coordinate state efforts to move policy and messages across the states. 

  • Our Shared Multi-State Agenda for 2010 reflects state leaders putting corporate accountability, green jobs, addressing the foreclosure crisis, cutting health care costs, election reform, and help for working parents on the public agenda.  
  • By promoting a balanced approach of raising revenue to address the fiscal crisis, state leaders are moving job creation efforts and keeping teachers, nurses and police employed in our communities. 
  • Programs like PSN's State Immigration Project directly confronts right-wing anti-immigrant messaging with a positive alternative message of integrating new immigrants into our communities.
  • And PSN's work on a range of other issues, from broadband to workers' rights to privatization, helps progressive leaders continue to promote bold, innovative policy across the states.

In a time of extreme economic hardship, voters are looking for clear leadership.  And despite current discontent with D.C., the public is committed to progressive values.  They just need to see those values in action.

State leaders - both legislators and organizations - can address that hunger for leadership by moving progressive policies and messaging in the states. 

By promoting jobs, protecting families, and expanding accountability, state leaders will deliver the message that progressives will not be blocked from serving the needs of the public, however the right-wing manipulates the filibuster to impose gridlock in D.C.

Resources:

Progressive States Network - Why States Matter
Progressive States Network - Multi-State Shared Agenda
Progressive States Network - Progressive Values Dominant-- But Need to Rebuild Trust in Effectiveness of Government Action