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A New Era of Progress in the States

The 2007 State Legislative Season Shows States Taking the Lead on Progressive Reform

State-level leaders came to the Center for American Progress to show Washington D.C. what the states are doing to advance progressive public policy.

“It’s important to tell the story,” Diallo Brooks of the Center for Policy Alternatives told attendees at an event at the Center for American Progress yesterday focusing on progress in the states. No, Brooks was not talking about tales of Capitol Hill chaos or White House rumors; he was talking about what’s going on with progressive legislation at the state level. State legislators’ stories, he explained, show that states are leading a new era of progressive reform.

The Progressive States Network and the Center for American Progress event yesterday brought together leaders from Maryland, Washington, and Iowa who have championed a progressive agenda in their home states. Each representative discussed the new policies implemented, the tools they used, and the challenges they faced.

Maryland House Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-20), for example, explained how she has helped Maryland take steps to ensure adequate health care for all citizens with specific attention on children. “A tidal wave of progressive action” helped move the legislation, she explained, expressing hope that this trend will continue for years to come and push the traditionally more conservative State Senate into action. Mizeur’s personal goal for the session is to work toward a mandate that all children receive health coverage, better protecting the 90,000 kids in Maryland currently living without insurance.

Even though the states are a continent apart, Washington State Senator Karen Keiser (D-33) noted the similarities between Washington and Maryland—two states working to be “not just a Petri dish, but a leader” in implementing a progressive agenda.

Washington was the second state—following California—to require that companies provide paid family leave to parents with new children. State-based advocacy groups, such as “Moms Rising,” were instrumental in passing the social programs. And thanks to progressive action, Washington can now boast virtually universal health care for children under 18. Keiser emphasized that they are trying to provide “health care, not just health insurance.”

Iowa State Senator Joe Bolkcom described how in his state “the progressive agenda is the mainstream agenda,” Bolkom pointed to the state’s leadership in the fight to stem the effects of climate change. The Iowa Power Fund, an initiative that created a new office of energy independence in the governor’s administration and provided $100 million for new research in green technologies, for example, was recently instituted with a wave of popular support.

The senator brought home the practical success of his progressive initiatives by noting the state’s fiscal accomplishments. Iowa has not only balanced their budget, but deposited funds into “rainy day” accounts for the state, at the same time adding additional benefits to citizens. This success was only possibly through elections, he emphasized to the audience saying “elections do matter;” without broad public support for progressive issues and candidates, Iowa’s progress would have been impossible.

Diallo Brooks and Joel Barkin, Executive Director of the Progressive States Network gave a national perspective to these victories. Progressive networking across states has added to momentum, Brooks explained, and this action provides and example and case studies for the federal government to follow.

Interstate cooperation like that facilitated by the Progressive States Network, which brings together policy makers to “share ideas and best practices,” is unprecedented, but crucial. As Barkin put it, “When something passes… it sends shock waves.” Now the entire nation is feeling the effects of progressive action on the state level.

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Get more information about the Center for American Progress’ state-level research and outreach initiatives from State Progress. You may also contact Derrick Richardson, Senior Manager for State and Regional Affairs at (202) 741-6286 or drichardson@americanprogress.org.

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