Over the next two years, Washington will be a horror show. The president and a minority of senators will try to minimize the destruction that extreme conservatives will attempt to inflict on our personal freedoms, basic economic security, and the American Dream. As for good (or even rational) proactive legislation, forget it!
But that doesn’t mean we can’t win progressive victories in 2015. We can still dramatically change policy by focusing on states and localities—specifically 18 states that are controlled by Democrats or have split partisan control, about three dozen big cities with blue majorities, and thousands of smaller progressive-controlled cities, towns and counties.
For evidence, just look at the past two years.
● While Congress did nothing good for workers’ wages and benefits, states and cities raised the minimum wage, guaranteed sick leave, and provided collective bargaining rights to many.
● While Congress did nothing for LGBT people, states legalized same-sex marriage and both states and localities enacted laws against housing and workplace discrimination.
● While Congress did nothing for immigrants, states passed DREAM acts and allowed individuals to obtain drivers’ licenses without regard to immigration status while cities directed their police to stop asking about immigration status and stop cooperating with federal immigration detainer requests.
● While Congress did nothing about climate change, states and localities increased the generation of renewable energy—especially solar energy—and encouraged energy efficiency in both buildings and equipment.
● While Congress did nothing about racial profiling and police violence, cities took the lead to fix the problem generally, and specifically, to require cameras on police cars and uniforms.
Next year, progressive elected officials will do so much more. They are the ones who will propose our nation’s most far-reaching, proactive measures. They will turn states, cities and counties into proving grounds for the newest policy ideas. And they will win.
To help them along, the Public Leadership Institute (associated with the Institute for America’s Future) just published the 2015 edition of its Progressive Agenda for States and Localities.
Has someone you know asserted that progressives have run out of ideas? That progressives don’t have a vision for the future? Show them the Progressive Agenda!
It’s divided into 12 policy topics and lays out a vision for each topic, suggesting what a progressive state or locality ought to look like. In the area of taxation, for example, a progressive jurisdiction would adopt legislation to disclose tax expenditures, eliminate unfair tax giveaways to the rich, raise tax rates on wealthy individuals and corporations, and cut taxes on those who can’t afford them.
For each topic, there are highlighted policy models to address the some of our nation’s most timely concerns, like racial profiling, the militarization of police, harassment of immigrants, electronic data privacy, the overuse of standardized tests, fairness to pregnant workers, stopping voter suppression, preventing job piracy, genetically modified foods, unfair debt collection practices, promoting solar energy, reversing the impact of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, stopping the war on drug users, raising taxes on the rich, and improving workers’ wages and benefits—to name just a few.
As you surely know, the right wing understands the paramount importance of empowering state and local lawmakers. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has fought over the years for regressive state policies, and too often they have won by getting friends to sponsor and enact their model bills. Earlier this year, ALEC created a new organization, the American City County Exchange (ACCE), to spread their “free market” model laws across the nation at the local level. We cannot let that happen—and we won’t.
Our Progressive Agenda includes hyperlinks so that left-of-center legislators, council members and commissioners have direct access to more than 150 progressive model bills, almost half of which are authored by our staff at the Public Leadership Institute. Working with allies across the nation, the Public Leadership Institute will promote our Agenda to a nationwide network of more than 13,000 progressive state and local lawmakers.
If you want to get involved at the state or local level, please feel free to join the effort here.
Bernie Horn is Senior Advisor for the Public Leadership Institute and for Progressive Majority Action.