Lane: Let’s Have a Dream
Recent politics in the Midwest provide key lessons the rest of the nation should heed.
We are currently amidst a sea of calamities. There’s the recent expulsion of two Black Tennessee state legislators from their seats for having the gall to partake in a protest advocating for gun control that cruelly didn’t make its targets feel all warm and fuzzy inside. There’s the ever-shrinking legality of abortion in states across the country. Some Republican politicians in Wisconsin have childishly threatened to impeach newly-elected state Supreme Court justice Janet Protasiewicz before she has even taken office. There’s the ongoing assault on LGBTQ+ individuals in wide swaths of this country. We just found out one of our Supreme Court justices has been taking lavish and likely illegal gifts under the table from Republican megadonors for the past 20 — that’s right, two-zero — years. If that wasn’t enough, Iowa and Arkansas are trying to make sweatshop-style child labor cool again, too. I, for one, need something to look forward to.
It’s true, I’m a Minnesotan, so perhaps I’m a bit biased. But I do earnestly believe the Midwest is giving us stellar examples of progress that those of us outside the region aren’t paying close enough attention to. Not only was there an 11-point blowout in the Wisconsin Supreme Court election, which will potentially lead to legal protection of abortion rights and the overturning of the state’s incredibly gerrymandered electoral maps, but there have also been a string of legislative victories in Minnesota and Michigan. We need to learn from the strategies that gave us these accomplishments so that the rest of the nation can experience them too.
What legislative victories, you ask? Michigan’s brand new legislature made history by repealing the state’s ‘right to work’ law, which contrary to its name did nothing to protect jobs and was simply a ploy to weaken labor unions. They’ve also repealed the state’s archaic abortion ban and are currently working on gun control. Minnesota has gone even further. Since the start of the legislative session just a few months ago, the state has accomplished a laundry list of feats. They’ve codified abortion rights, passed a bill to fund free school breakfast and lunch for all children in the state, mandated a transition to 100% clean electricity by 2040 and restored voting rights to convicted felons who have completed their sentences and reintegrated into society. The state is currently working on a universal paid sick and family leave program, antitrust legislation, gun control and marijuana legalization, among other topics.
What’s the greater point here? Beyond the fact that these are huge accomplishments, they give us a road map for a future where the whole country can experience these benefits, and not just two states. Highest on the list is the primacy of state-level action. State governments, when adequately supported, can churn out incredible policy. Governors Tim Walz, D-Minn., and Gretchen Whitmer, D-Mich., have proven it is they who are currently leading progress in this country, not any of the countless individuals in D.C. who make far more money and get far more press coverage. Of the 39 states controlled by a single party, many are choosing to use that power to churn out bad policy because of the unfortunate reality of the views of their politicians. But of the rest, many are forgoing the opportunity they have to be positive counterexamples.
Governor Gavin Newsom, D-Calif., is currently traveling through the South on his “Campaign for Democracy,” pointing out the foolish mistakes some state legislatures are making. As correct as he is on these points, I wish he were doing more to drive positive change rather than just reacting to negative change. Governor Newsom ran for office on a platform that included single-payer healthcare for California, which if passed would have been the biggest state legislative accomplishment in years. Instead, he let that bill die quietly after he got elected on the backs of groups like the California Nurses Association. Those groups had supported him precisely because he backed single-payer, and he has yet to fulfill his promise to them. Similarly, New York has had an excellent single-payer bill for years — the New York Health Act — which the legislature is waffling on and which Governor Hochul has shied away from. Many states like these have so much opportunity right now to pass legislation like Minnesota and Michigan have, yet they aren’t for unclear reasons.
Republican legislators in Minnesota have been so dumbfounded by the speed of the new legislative actions and the shock of their surprise defeat in the 2022 elections that they’ve started to lose organizational cohesion and are making embarrassing blunders left and right. One Minnesota Republican state senator made national news after he claimed the universal school meals program was unnecessary because he’s never seen a hungry person in the state. Another used a slur for Polish people as part of his attempt to prove his party wasn’t racist while speaking on the Senate floor. These flops are a clear sign of a self-destructing political movement. They have no coherent alternative to offer voters. For reform to succeed elsewhere as it has in Minnesota and Michigan, voters nationally must be shown the same choice they faced in those two states.
That choice was — and still is — between a vibrant, optimistic and mission-focused future on one side and confused, dysfunctional and clumsy irrationality on the other. The recipe to success here is not getting drawn into political catfights over culture war red herrings at the expense of actually getting legislation passed. Universal school meals, protecting abortion rights and unions, voting rights and clean energy are all examples of down-to-earth policies that win. Our economy and society both need to be revitalized. We have no time to spare in addressing the pressing problems facing the nation. The pragmatic Midwestern path is the surest way to doing so.
Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.