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.
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Representative Paulsen says some inherently institutional features at the state level encourage bipartisanship. Unlike most legislative bodies that segregate the parties on each side of the chamber, Hawkeye State members are intermingled, enabling them to converse with a range of colleagues during floor debates. “To the right I have a Republican and to the left I have a Democrat, and in front of me there’s a Democrat,” Paulsen says. “It provides some casual opportunities for collaboration.”Skip to next paragraph
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It also helps that minority parties in Iowa and other states – unlike Congress – can’t rely on the filibuster. The US Senate, these days, only has to threaten that parliamentary weapon to stall a vote if there are fewer than 60 votes to pass legislation. But in the few states where the filibuster is permitted, state lawmakers can only use it the old-fashioned way, by talking endlessly to stall business.
Also state lawmakers often say they keenly recognize the value of collaborating with someone whose politics diverge from theirs.
Texas Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, a blunt-talking Latina, likes to recount her success in 2001 in enlisting help from an unlikely ally, the late Teel Bivins, who was a candid, conservative Amarillo rancher. She knew she needed Republican help for her 2001 bill to allow Texas-born children of illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state college tuition and financial aid – an unpopular idea with the GOP.
She says she told Senator Bivins that the government already had paid to educate the students in public schools and that it made no sense to punish them; he asked for some restrictions to mollify his colleagues and eventually agreed to push the DREAM Act into law in 2001.
“People looked at us and said, ‘If I have a conservative rural Republican and a big-city lady Democrat who can come to a middle ground, it must be good policy,’ ” recounts Senator Van de Putte, who co-chaired the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
In Washington State, House Democrats in the majority often turn to Republican Mike Armstrong on government reform issues. They recently noticed Representative Armstrong had introduced a bill to overhaul the state’s Department of Social and Health Services and decided to use it as a way to showcase their interest in improving how the bureaucracy functions. The Ways and Means Committee passed the bill in early February, 15 to 7.
“We decided we’re here to really show reform and we really want to cut the costs of government, so we grabbed Mike’s bill,” says Democratic state Rep. Larry Seaquist. “It’s still his bill, but now we’ve cooperated on it.”