With national-level Democrats stymied in their efforts to pass social welfare and voting rights bills, what's next? Maybe they should try looking to the states.
Alexander Sammon never uses the word "federalism" in a new piece at The American Prospect. But he does argue that state-level Democrats like California Gov. Gavin Newsom and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul should take federal gridlock as a sign that it's time to "think big" about what they can accomplish — on issues like health care, education, and affordable housing — and hope that the political benefits trickle up.
Sammon writes that "the big, ambitious projects side of governing has effectively fallen to state-level Democrats, especially those in populous states without meaningful Republican obstruction. From here out, statehouse work in Sacramento, Albany, and elsewhere is the party's best bet to accomplish what might otherwise be expected from Democrats in Washington, D.C. They're going to have to do Joe Biden's job for him."
State and local organizing aren't exactly new to Democrats and progressives. That's where efforts to raise the minimum wage and legalize marijuana have had their most success. But liberals are less likely to talk romantically about states as "laboratories of democracy" than their conservative counterparts. Left-of-center rhetoric embracing state power usually peaks only when Republicans control the government, and then Democrats see it as a form of resistance to conservative federal authority. When the GOP is running Washington, one activist said in 2017, "progressives are likely to respond by going local, where there's more latitude to make progress."
They certainly have an opportunity to take big swings at the state level. As Bloomberg's Amanda Albright points out, states are currently awash in billions of dollars in federal pandemic aid, which gives Democratic governors the resources to try big new things. "We can do it all," New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) said this week.
That's more than Washington can do right now. With the filibuster still firmly in place in the U.S. Senate, lefty activists may decide it's time to treat the government run by President Joe Biden as functionally under the control of Republicans.