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                                       politics + culture

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

State Legislatures: the fulcrum point for progressive power

I'd like to make a simple point. Progressives and progressive-friendly candidates winning seats to State Legislatures is the fulcrum point to achieving the goals of the progressive movement in American politics. When progressive reformers win seats to state legislatures it advances three core political goals:

a) electing true progressives to office
b) reforming the Democratic party from within
c) holding entrenched Senators and Representatives in DC accountable in the only way that really counts, by making them scared for their political lives in their own districts


On the American political playing field there is one slow-moving power dynamic that trumps all others: victory in State Legislatures. Control of State Legislatures is the surest way to:

a) advance policy through the legislative test tube of 50 separate States implementing solutions particular to their environmment
b) shape the make up of the U.S. House of Representatives through influence on the redistricting process
c) influence the election laws of every state and ensure fair and free elections (State legislatures are where this happens.)
d) and, ultimately, exert influence on the United States Constitution itself through the Amendment process (no small concern given the current make up of the Supreme Court)

In immediate pragmatic terms, there is one concern that trumps the above: the surest way to jump start the reform process within the Democratic party is to elect progressive reform-minded candidates to State Legislative seats that overlap with current Democratic Representatives. In 2007 and 2008 we need to elect as many progressives as possible to state districts that share some of the same voters as our less reform-minded U.S. Congresspeople. We need to understand the power of "the overlap".

Virtually the only way to truly scare the living crap out of some of the undefeatable dinosaurs that currently rule the legislative agenda of the Democratic party is to elect progressive, forward-thinking Democrats to seats in districts that overlap their own.

This is a win-win-win.

We position our candidates in the feeder system for eventually succeeding the dinosaur Congressperson or Senator, we advance our legislative agenda on the State level, and we put pressure on the Democratic party from within by creating the visible, tangible threat of a primary challenge for the Dinosaur Dems who are currently ruling over Washington like a flock of Roosters. The natural and best-positioned candidates to challenge entrenched incumbents from within a party are State Legislative office holders, especially those from a shared district. They have the field team, the base of voters and the fundraising to do what few else can: challenge the dinosaurs and give them a run for the money.

The 2007/08 election cycle will be about a great many things. Presidential politics will, as always, occupy much of the media's attention.

Activist grassroots progressives focused on taking our country back should not forget the real engine for lasting political reform it the United States federal system of government: the power of State Legislatures. Reform movements that elect their people to state legislative office set in motion cascading after-effects that keep winning long after the media tents on election day have packed up and disappeared.

If we are serious about creating a lasting legacy of progressive policy in this nation and forging a true "New Day" in terms of legislation passed and reforms won, progressives need to relentlessly focus on State Legislatures. These local bodies are truly the fulcrum point of political power in the American system of government. When we elect our people locally, we win and keep winning for decades.

It's that simple.


  • I'm so glad to see you sticking to this local organizing/local elections territory. You've already done great work in this arena.

    By Blogger Meteor Blades, at 10:54 PM  

  • Amen, brother!

    A friendly amendment: the key is to elect smart, *ambitious* progressives who see the State Legislature as a stepping stone to higher office, not as a career in itself.

    By Anonymous Jon Stahl, at 9:45 PM  

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