Democrats’ big­gest wins were in state leg­is­la­tures

Ledger-Enquirer - - Opinion - BY BRYCE COVERT

Democrats pulled off a sig­nif­i­cant vic­tory on Nov. 6. No, it wasn’t taking back the House in Con­gress. It’s what they did in state leg­is­la­tures around the coun­try.

Democrats made strides in a num­ber of state­houses. They seized con­trol of seven leg­isla­tive cham­bers, flip­ping the state sen­ates in Colorado, Maine and New York; the House in Min­nesota; and both cham­bers in New Hamp­shire. Con­necti­cut’s Sen­ate, pre­vi­ously evenly split, is now held by Democrats. They broke Repub­li­can su­per­ma­jori­ties in Michi­gan and Penn­syl­va­nia’s sen­ates and both cham­bers in North Carolina.

Democrats also flipped seven gov­er­nor­ships. They now com­pletely con­trol all three state­house branches in 13 states and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., com­pared to the seven state­houses where they held tri­fecta con­trol be­fore Elec­tion Day.

Th­ese vic­to­ries ar­guably hold the same, if not more, heft than the in­roads Democrats made in Con­gress. At the fed- eral level, leg­isla­tive achieve­ments have ground to nearly a com­plete halt in re­cent years.

At the same time, pro­gres­sive goals like a higher min­i­mum wage and guar­an­teed paid leave have only been re­al­ized at the state level. Con­gress hasn’t raised the min­i­mum wage since 2007, keeping it stuck at $ 7.25 an hour for more than a decade, but 13 state leg­is­la­tures and D.C. have passed their own higher wages since 2014. Cur­rently, 29 states and D.C. have wage floors above the fed­eral back­stop. This year alone, th­ese in­creases boosted pay for over 15 mil­lion work­ers.

The same pat­tern has ap­peared for paid sick leave. The Democrats’ con­gres­sional bill to en­sure all work­ers in the coun­try can take paid time off if they or their fam­ily mem­bers fall ill has never moved for­ward. But since 2011, 11 states have passed paid sick leave leg­is­la­tion to do just that for their res­i­dents, along with 19 cities and three coun­ties. Sim­i­larly, there is no fed­eral guar­an­tee of paid fam­ily leave for the ar­rival of a new child or a se­ri­ous ill­ness or dis­abil­ity, and a bill to es­tab­lish a pro­gram coun­try­wide hasn’t ad­vanced. But six states and D.C. have set up their own pro­grams in the mean­time.

Democrats can push fur­ther to raise wages and ben­e­fits for Amer­i­can work­ers. If the Supreme Court weak­ens Roe v. Wade, Demo­cratic-con­trolled leg­is­la­tures can en­shrine women’s re­pro­duc­tive free­dom in their own laws. They can ad­dress cli­mate change through car­bon pric­ing and re­new­able en­ergy man­dates. States can also pro­tect vot­ing rights, through au­to­matic voter reg­is­tra­tion and other re­forms, re­duce mass in­car­cer­a­tion by get­ting rid of cash bail and need­lessly puni­tive poli­cies and curb gun vi­o­lence with gun con­trol leg­is­la­tion.

Af­ter the 2010 midterms, Repub­li­cans seized ma­jor­ity con­trol of 11 state leg­is­la­tures. Th­ese were the states that en­acted some of the harsh­est bud­get cuts in the wake of the re­ces­sion while of­ten cutting taxes at the same time, lead­ing to dis­pro­por­tion­ate drops in their pub­lic sec­tor work forces. While many states had to pare back their bud­gets to re­spond to the pain of the re­ces­sion, some have since bounced back. Most states con­trolled by Democrats had restored ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing by 2016, for ex­am­ple, while only five con­trolled by Repub­li­cans did the same. A num­ber of Repub­li­can con­trolled states, such as Ari­zona, Kansas, North Carolina and Ok­la­homa, de­cided to cut taxes in­stead of get­ting ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing back to nor­mal.

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