State Elections Matter
It should come as no surprise that state government has an inordinate amount of power. After all, that’s how our country was designed. James Madison wrote in the Federalist Paper #45, “The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State. The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the State governments, in times of peace and security.”
The state legislature is where laws are passed that have the greatest impact on our daily lives and the most potential to improve people’s lives. Or not. The more state seats that flip from red to blue, the more Democratic majorities will be created in state chambers. And with those wins, we can shift the balance of power and implement policy change that will uplift the future of our communities.
State capitols are where bills are introduced and laws are passed that affect people’s day to day lives the most. Policy surrounding voter rights, healthcare, education, gun safety, reproductive rights, and environmental protections all happen at the state level. For decades, these lawmakers acted in near darkness, with no one paying attention. Including the Democratic party. And that gave Republicans an opportunity to capture these chambers and fill them with legislators they can control. It is only in recent years, since the second half of the Trump administration, that the media and general public have picked up on this and become more aware of the magnitude of power inside these governing bodies.
In 2010, two years after Obama was elected President, Republicans launched Project REDMAP and targeted the states. The extreme right wanted Obama out of office, and if they couldn’t get that, they went after the next best thing: they made his policies ineffective, and they did it by turning to the states. Republicans flipped over 1,000 state seats in the decade to follow. Of the ninety-nine state chambers across the country, sixty-six were controlled by Republicans. And once they won those majorities, in the ultimate power grab they gerrymandered the hell out of them, consolidating their power even more.
All of these facts and figures add up to a huge imbalance that affects not just the individual states but the country overall. State laws have a way of spreading to other states, and often become precedent for national legislation, especially as public approval for certain laws grows. This is how we got marriage equality in our country. State senators often go on to become leaders in their party. Barack Obama was a state senator. So was Abraham Lincoln. States controlled by Democrats pass progressive laws, like reducing fuel emissions or enacting automatic voter registration. And for the people who live in red states, this often means they are denied access to basic human rights.
Democratic controlled states pass laws that make it easier to vote, expand healthcare, protect the rights of the vulnerable and raise the minimum wage. Republicans pass laws that make it harder to vote, ban books, take away a woman’s freedom over her body, and make it easier to buy guns.
In the November 2022 election, both chambers in the Michigan state legislature flipped blue. Combined with Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer winning her re-election, Michigan became a Democratic trifecta for the first time in forty years. And they have wasted no time getting to work. This includes repealing the retirement tax, restoring workers’ rights, expanding civil rights to include protections for the LGBTQ+ community, creating gun safety laws in the aftermath of a deadly mass shooting on a college campus, and repealing an archaic and cruel abortion ban. Literally life-saving laws.
When Republicans are in charge, we see very different laws being passed. Florida has a Republican trifecta. And they are introducing bills that criminalize abortion, ban books, forbid girls in school to discuss anything related to their periods, eliminate background checks before purchasing guns, and remove protections for the transgender community. Republicans are creating a real-life dystopia.
State power doesn’t end with policy. It is also ground zero for protecting our democracy. Because the state legislature has control over who goes to Congress. In most states, the redistricting maps are drawn by partisan state legislatures, and many of them engage in gerrymandering. When this happens, voters don’t get to choose who represents them. And the extreme right wing is attempting to use the state legislature as a tool to overturn fair elections, including the Presidential election.
Taking back the states is a fight worth having. States run by Democratic majorities are safer, have better funded school systems, greater access to affordable healthcare, and the people enjoy a higher quality of life. Democratic state lawmakers are more diverse than their Republican colleagues in terms of gender, race, and socio-economic background, and bring different lived experiences to the decision-making table, affecting their policy ideas and sense of fairness. State legislatures are where the battle for democracy and freedom is taking place in our country. In fact, it may be the most important fight we face.