Moving Forward with the New Progressive Mandate in the States

11/06/2008 - 2:00pm

[Click here for an mp3 recording of the full call.] 

On the heels of Barack Obama’s landslide victory in Tuesday’s Presidential election, the national policy group Progressive States Network will host a conference call on Thursday in which policy experts, legislators, and advocates from across the nation will highlight the state-level mandate for progressive change that accompanied Obama’s victory and map an ambitious 50-state legislative agenda to capitalize on that mandate.

Noting the fact that almost all states carried by Obama also saw gains for progressive leaders at the state level, PSN Executive Director Joel Barkin, who will lead the call, characterized Tuesday’s election as a genuinely national referendum in favor of progressive values.

According to Barkin, “What we saw in this election was one of those rare, once-in a generation moments when the country speaks up as a whole and demands a new direction. This election confirmed that the majority of Americans want to move away from the conservative ideology of unfettered free markets and corporate welfare that has ravaged this country for the past three decades and instead turn toward a more equitable and just society. As a former State Senator, President Elect Obama understands better than most what a crucial role progressive state leaders can and must play in building such a society.”

Among the key results to be detailed in the call are Democratic gubernatorial victories in Washington, North Carolina, and Delaware, which bring the total number of Democratic governorships to 29; new Democratic majorities in legislative chambers in Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada, Delaware, and New York; expanded Democratic majorities in Oregon, Connecticut, Washington, and Michigan; as well as the legislative implications of new Democratic two-chamber-plus-governor “trifectas” in New York, Wisconsin, and Delaware, which bring the total number of Democratic trifectas to 16.

The call will also detail shifts in the legislative map resulting from several outlying but significant Republican victories such as winning an unprecedented trifecta in Tennessee, taking the Oklahoma Senate for the first time in history, winning the Montana Senate, and holding onto the Arizona House of Representatives.

On the ballot initiative front, speakers will detail how despite high profile losses on several gay marriage proposals, progressives fared quite well on other social issues including greater freedom for stem cell research in Michigan; protections for abortion in Colorado, South Dakota, and California; and preserving affirmative action in Colorado. Underscoring the mandate for progressive economic policy evidenced in Obama’s victory, speakers will also highlight defeats for several initiatives including a proposed repeal of the progressive income tax in Massachussetts, a measure to deregulate the pay-day lending industry in Arizona and Ohio, and a union-busting “right to work” measure in Colorado.

In order to seize the legislative opportunity presented by this electoral mandate, PSN’s Policy team will outline a strategy to move a comprehensive set of progressive reforms in the first 100 days of the upcoming session, including proposals for partnering with Congress to push back many of the federal preemptions on state regulatory authority that have hampered attempts at progressive reform in the last decade, chief among them being the ERISA laws and SCHIP funding cuts which have proven to be a significant handicap for states pushing for health care reform in the absence of federal action on the issue.

Despite the abundance of optimism in the wake of Tuesday’s results, Barkin stressed that the election of Democrats does not in and of itself amount to progressive change. “We’ve got a lot of work to do now to make sure our leaders follow through on the promise of change that the electorate so resoundingly demanded this Tuesday. From health care to job creation, from progressive taxation to smart energy policy, we’ve got to get out there and make sure that these victories change policies on the issues that matter to the American people instead of just changing who sits in the Statehouse. The table is set to wipe away the legacy of decades of failed conservative ideology, but what becomes of that opportunity is up to us.”