In this year’s State of the Union address, President Obama laid out a vision of opportunity, action and optimism for America, seeking to incite congressional action on a number of issues with far-reaching implications. Yet the President acknowledged our currently gridlocked Congress, highlighting the critical need for legislative action on the state level in order to enact this agenda.
Congressional Republicans have made it clear they will obstruct President Obama’s vision in several key areas where the states play a central role: minimum wage, voting reform and Medicaid expansion. The GOP is more concerned with attempting to pass legislation restricting women’s access to healthcare, banning marriage equality, blocking the Affordable Care Act and attacking undocumented immigrants. Thus, enacting much of the President’s vision will depend on Democrats in state legislatures who are committed to progressive ideals. This is no clearer than in the eight chambers where Democrats won new majorities in 2012; state legislative leaders there have already begun working to provide their residents with fair wages, expanded access to Medicare and broaden access to the ballot box.
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Barely a month into 2014, more than half of U.S. states are already considering legislation to increase the minimum wage or tie it to inflation, an idea overwhelmingly popular with the majority of Americans. A recent national review by The Associated Press revealed that Democratic lawmakers in at least 30 states plan on introducing measures to support such increases. State-level victories are crucial in demonstrating to Congress that the issue has significant momentum:
A Quinnipiac University poll this month found 71 percent of Americans in favor of raising the minimum wage — including more than half of Republicans polled. Michael Sargeant, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, calls it an "organic issue that's bubbling up from the grassroots." (...)President Obama also discussed the importance of voting reform, noting that the bipartisan commission he appointed last year to alleviate long Election Day lines has proposed changes “so that no one has to wait more than a half hour to vote.” The centerpiece of the commission’s roadmap is to implement and expand early voting, which has become increasingly popular with each election cycle. In the states, Democratic lawmakers have consistently advocated for this type of expanded access to the ballot box, championing early and absentee voting as a safety valve that actually protects voters’ rights - particularly in this era of Republican-backed voter purges and voting restrictions.
There's hope that success will breed more success. Vale, a top adviser at the Democratic super PAC American Bridge, said the thinking behind the push is to get things started at the state level, where lawmakers come into more direct contact with their constituents. Once state legislatures start moving, it will lend momentum to a federal expansion.
Nearly every state enacting expanded early voting measures, like Minnesota, Colorado and Maryland, has a Democratically-controlled legislature, whereas many states controlled by Republicans have enacted laws that actually cut early voting and restrict access to the voting booth in other ways. Legislators from 22 states recently met to devise a national strategy to counteract such voter suppression laws and instead promote laws that protect voters’ rights. Among those in attendance were Georgia House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams and Florida House Democratic Whip Alan B. Williams:
Williams and Abrams each shared several ideas for commonsense, incremental progress — proposals that could gain bipartisan support even in states with Republican control or divided government. Among their ideas were making voter registrations more portable for those who move within the same state, making Election Day a state holiday, investing in more electronic poll books for election officials, adding official student ID cards to the lists of valid voter identification forms, and allowing for more online voter registration. “We can’t approach this with a typewriter mentality, in an iPad world,” Williams noted.Under the Affordable Care Act, more than 5 million uninsured workers were supposed to get health insurance through Medicaid expansion, paid for mostly with federal dollars. Most states have accepted the funding, yet nearly two-dozen state governments have inexplicably chosen to deny it, leaving those 5 million Americans vulnerable and uninsured. In every one of those states, Republicans are in control of at least one legislative chamber or the governorship, or both. This is consistent with the congressional Republican agenda that has tried at every turn to block the Affordable Care Act from being implemented.
It is clear from these examples and others that even as Republican obstruction grows worse in Washington, outside the Beltway, state Democrats are already advancing the agenda set in President Obama’s State of the Union address. The President himself expressed how crucial state Democrats' support will be for enacting his vision, particularly in the areas of minimum wage, voting rights and healthcare. And Democratic legislative leaders stand ready to continue our efforts to move America in a more progressive direction.