Why is it that even though Trump is out of office, it seems that the roots of Trumpism still have a hold on our democracy? It’s not only because of the loud voices coming out of Washington DC or even the rightwing talking heads on Fox. The policies, the laws that affect our daily lives, are coming from our statehouses. And by understanding the power of state legislatures and state races we can combat Trumpism in a way that is more effective and less costly than you ever knew!
The path to success is through our statehouses. The radical right figured this secret out 40 years ago. They have been paying close attention to state races while the rest of us have been too focused on national elections. Statehouses hold more real power over our daily lives even though most of us don’t even know who our state representatives are! State legislatures decide whether we have paid sick leave, whether women can have abortions, how money is apportioned for health care, roads, and climate change initiatives, and much more.
The ultra right has been busy vetting and funding candidates who will vote for their self-serving legislation against gun control, climate change legislation, civil rights laws, and much more to run in state races while the rest of us have been missing in action. Flipping statehouses, identifying key state races that will protect against radical right supermajorities, making sure that the majority-making state races are well funded so the candidates can get their messages out and do in-person door-knocking is the most direct and cheapest way to combat rightwing extremism in America.
In short, winning state house races is the key to the battle for the soul of our country. There is a group already hard at work that researches and figures out which state races hold the keys to success in the battle against Trumpism: The States Project. Here’s the secret sauce for success, from The States Project’s Head of Giving Circles, Melissa Walker:
I’m a children’s book author who didn’t turn to politics until the fall of 2016. But when I did, I found state legislatures, and I continue to marvel at their power and how ignored they are. So that’s where I’m focused. Because here’s the good news:
It is often cheaper to change the balance of power in a state chamber than it is to win a single competitive congressional seat.
Take that in. Congressional races cost millions of dollars. State legislative races are still small, still local. And their outcomes — who hold the majorities in state capitals — impact us all.
- Protecting Democracy. The radical rightwing has launched attack after attack on our democracy through state legislatures. Pressuring state lawmakers to steal the presidential election. Coordinated introductions of hundreds of voter suppression bills in state legislatures around the country. Policies to give themselves unmitigated power to ignore the popular vote. Electing state majorities that believe in democracy is the only way to return power to the people and secure our future.
- Piloting National Policy. States pioneered the recognition of marriage equality. Before Obamacare, they passed Romneycare in Massachusetts, and years before that, Hawaii Care. The most critical issues spread from state to state until they become national priorities, and federal policy — either good or disastrous.
- Implementation of Federal Policy. Think about the Affordable Care Act, it’s the law of the land. And yet 12 states still haven’t expanded Medicaid because the rightwing majorities in their capitals block it. State governments determine how federal policies are implemented.
- Launching New Leaders. Stacey Abrams and Barack Obama both got started in state legislatures, but so did David Duke and Matt Gaetz. States are where tomorrow’s leaders emerge.
When we elect people-focused state legislative majorities, we can shore up the foundations of our democracy and lawmakers can work to pass policy that improves lives.
That’s why I work with The States Project https://statesproject.org/as the Head of Giving Circles. Our team helps people organize Giving Circles all over the country to raise resources to help shift the balance of power in our target states (selected after a 99-chamber analysis and deep district-by-district research). We focus on the majority-makers, candidates in the closest races, who can shift power to build majorities.
So what are some of our targeted state legislatures doing right now? Here are a few examples:
- In the earliest days of 2022, state lawmakers in Arizona have proposed a flood of new rightwing laws that double down on anti-voter legislation including limiting early in-person voting to the weekend before a general election, limiting drop boxes, and new restrictions on counting valid votes.
- Following the blueprint of other swing states that went for President Biden, Michigan’s legislative majorities advanced dozens of anti-voter bills. Including banning the use of drop boxes on election day, giving constituents less time to vote, and criminalizing election officials for public communications about voting by mail or locations of ballot drop boxes.
- In Pennsylvania, the rightwing majority passed an anti-voter bill that would have made it harder for Pennsylvanians, particularly Black voters, to vote by restricting ballot drop-off locations and limiting the time where they could register.
- On the first day of session in Minnesota (Feb 1), rightwing state lawmakers proposed bills that would restrict abortions and make ivermectin available. Overturning abortion in the state has become a priority for the rightwing, which championed a range of other radical policies in 2021 like:
- Ending same-day voter registration in Minnesota which would have prevented more than 259,000 Minnesotans from voting in the 2020 election.
- Criminalizing peaceful protests and preventing activists who are arrested at protests from accessing student loans and other public programs.
- Meanwhile, Maine’s state legislature has worked to enact policies to secure a healthy, prosperous, and sustainable future in a state with a majority we’re working to protect — and in 2020, the tipping point seat in the House was decided by just 125 votes. Some of the policies this majority has worked hard on:
- Creating a climate action plan
- Implementing a student loan bill of rights
- Enacting equal pay transparency
- Supporting working families with paid sick leave
- Expanding our democracy through automatic voter registration and pre-registration of voters aged 16-17
- Saving lives by cutting healthcare costs through capping the price of insulin, ending surprise billing, and ensuring safe, low-cost prescriptions
If you’re thinking you should pay attention to state legislatures, that’s a good idea. If you’re thinking you should start right now, you’re correct. And if you’re looking for a path to action, a way to shore up these foundations of democracy, The States Project is a place to look. We’d be glad to have you join us in this work.
If you haven’t read the previous blog post by David Pepper, “A Fix to Anti-democratic Laws That Republicans Won’t Like,” please do. The landscape Pepper lays out about the role state legislatures play in our democracy, so well articulated in his book, Laboratories of Autocracy, is dark. And yet, we both are working to light a path to action in the spirit of Margaret Mead, who said,
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.”