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How to beat partisan politics? Ask your state government.

To avoid gridlock and partisan politics look to your state government. The states increasingly hold the power and influence over Washington in shaping American law – from safety to energy to social justice.

By Chuck McCutcheonCorrespondent / March 10, 2010

Leapfrogging political gridlock: Iowa Gov. Chet Culver signed the state’s pioneering healthcare legislation last May after it was passed without the partisanship that plagues Washington. Nearly 100 percent of Iowa’s children now have healthcare coverage.

Charlie Neibergall/AP

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Washington

Jack Hatch shook his head in frustration as he prepared to wade into yet another partisan brawl over healthcare. The Democratic Iowa state senator was co-chairing a 2007 special commission hearing on the subject in Mason City, and his GOP colleagues were carping about how an overly bureaucratic “Hillarycare”-style plan would be proposed for their state.

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Senator Hatch was winding up to launch his own rebuttal, but before he took the bait, he noticed that Julie Kuhle, a respected pharmacist on the commission, wanted to speak, and he deferred to her.

That move, he says, made the difference between gridlock and the momentum that has put the state in the forefront of healthcare reform. The pitch of the group had tilted more toward partisan Washington Beltway politics than the small-town pragmatism Iowan lawmakers pride themselves on, and Ms. Kuhle was about to shame them for it.

“Is this the way senators talk to each other?” she asked exasperatedly. “I can’t believe it! We’re not here to talk about politics – we’re here to talk about the problem of healthcare!”

The outburst, recalls Kuhle with obvious satisfaction, “just kind of shut people up.” They started to listen.

That, she and others say, is what the smaller arena of statehouse politics allows – more listening and, as a result, more action. Indeed, agrees Hatch, “that was the defining moment. At that point it opened the floodgates, and all the stakeholders started to talk seriously.”

The eventual result, which both sides say was crafted through an open subcommittee process, has been the passage over the past two years of bipartisan legislation that makes the Hawkeye State one of the nation’s healthcare leaders: Nearly 100 percent of all children in the state now have healthcare coverage and prescription drug costs have been reined in while providing more coverage options for businesses and families.

State officials from both parties say such gridlock breakthrough enables them to outstrip their counterparts in Congress in getting things done. They say their achievements can teach Washington, D.C., a few things about bipartisanship and, in the process, potentially help defuse the voter anger enveloping the nation.

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The Democrat-versus-Republican skirmishing that holds up major federal legislation is less of an obstacle in statehouses, clearing a path for innovative bills on issues that have immediate and direct effects on constituents’ lives. The result is that state lawmakers are shaping the legislative landscape of American life more than at any time in the past half century, say political observers. And they’d probably have even more clout if they weren’t in such dire economic straits.

States often are described as legislative “laboratories of innovation.” Their willingness to experiment and cooperate, say experts, has become especially critical as the country seeks a way out of the economic crisis and as the public mood toward government has soured.

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