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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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.Skip to next paragraph
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“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.”
If Congress wants the same results, Representative Seaquist says, it should look to his state. Unlike Capitol Hill, where committees have separate Democratic and Republican staffs, every panel in Olympia has a single nonpartisan staff. Ethics rules also are stringent, with campaign contributions forbidden starting 30 days before each legislative session.
“We still have our knock-down, drag-out fights, like on how we approach taxes,” he says. “But this economic situation is so bad – and voters are so angry and sick and tired of partisan politics – that we’ve been working together on substantive things.”
Maine Democratic state Rep. Sharon Treat was determined last year to pass a comprehensive law assisting residents in home foreclosures. She sought out Republicans and spent weeks reworking portions to address their concerns. Eventually, the bill passed, starting a pilot project in Maine’s hardest-hit county last July that went statewide in January.
“I just worked, worked, worked to get consensus.... We really have a foreclosure problem, and quite a few legislators put in bills to address the problem,” Representative Treat says. “While they were all Democrats, they weren’t coming from a partisan or ideological place.”
As with home foreclosures, state officials say that education, environment, and energy have become some of the most common areas of bipartisan collaboration, largely because they affect everyone’s lives and attract avid voter attention.
Veteran Wisconsin Democratic state Sen. Conrad Black notes that the first bill he worked on a quarter century ago was a measure to reduce acid rain – an action that the federal government subsequently took. He also became involved in bills to ban the pesticide DDT and to halt depletion of the ozone layer that also eventually became federal issues.
Senator Black is currently among the cosponsors of a comprehensive statewide energy bill. The same day that President Obama beseeched Congress in his recent State of the Union message to send him a national energy law, Wisconsin lawmakers were holding the second of six public hearings on their own bill, with the expectation of it being on the governor’s desk by Earth Day in April.