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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.

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In Maryland, Delegate Hucker was able to win the backing of GOP House of Delegates minority leader Anthony O’Donnell last year on a proposal to reduce pollution in Chesapeake Bay by requiring auto manufacturers to pay to recycle mercury capsules in older American cars. Hucker noted that Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration originally opposed the idea.

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“With a Democratic governor, Republicans want to be able to tell their base that they’re holding him accountable and being good watchdogs,” Hucker says.

With bipartisan backing, Governor O’Malley eventually supported the legislation. Lawmakers in neighboring Pennsylvania and Virginia are now considering similar bills, having recently invited Hucker and Delegate O’Donnell to brief them on it.

With the prevailing political winds shifting to the right, some states are moving away from government intervention in constituents’ lives. Montana and Tennessee in 2009 enacted legislation declaring that firearms and ammunition manufactured, sold, and used within their borders are not subject to federal regulations and taxes. Several other states are considering similar legislation this year. And Virginia is entertaining what legislators say is a record number of proposals to ease gun restrictions – 20 of them passed the House of Delegates last month. The most controversial among them would repeal a ban on buying more than one gun a month and allow people to carry concealed guns into bars if they don’t drink.

Also in Virginia, where Robert F. McDonnell became the first new GOP governor in eight years in January, the Democratically controlled state Senate passed measures that would eliminate requirements that individuals buy health insurance.

By mid-February, variations of that legislation had been introduced in more than 30 other states. The only state with a law in place was Arizona, which passed a measure last year asking voters this November to approve a state constitutional amendment on the issue.

Republican Glen Coffee, the Oklahoma Senate’s president pro tempore, predicts the issue of compelling individuals to buy insurance “will get a lot of attention, because what they do with healthcare at the national level impacts our state budget.”

For the most part, though, lawmakers insist they can continue to be more cooperative than Congress. That extends to talking with their counterparts in other states on the best ways to refine and revive unsuccessful legislation.

“We all learn from our failures – that’s the beauty of state legislatures,’’ says Texas’ Van de Putte. “If anything fails on the federal level, it’s either covered up or not recognized. I’ve had friends in Massachusetts say to me, ‘When you expand your healthcare system, make sure you bring everybody to the table – even the naysayers.”

It’s a simple exercise, she adds, that D.C.’s lawmakers would be well served to emulate.

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