But there’s a positive, less noticed story happening at the state level, too: Democrats in control of state governments are adopting a lot of really good, bold policies, measures that would have difficulty winning approval at the federal level, where Democrats have narrow margins in Congress and must be wary of backlash from more conservative voters. This development is great news for the 40 percent of Americans who live in the 17 states where Democrats dominate state government. (Just eight states fall into the neither red nor blue category.)
What’s happening in the blue states? Almost all of them are taking steps to make it easier to vote, from simplifying their vote-by-mail processes to adding more days of early voting. Many are legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana and passing other measures to make their criminal justice systems less punitive. Another big trend is drafting provisions to rein in police misconduct and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and otherwise fight climate change. Blue states are also raising taxes on millionaires and capital gains, letting college athletes hire agents and get endorsement deals, and raising their states’ minimum wages to $15 or at least allowing big cities in those states to do so. Maine and California are offering free lunch to all public school students.
It’s worth highlighting some particularly groundbreaking initiatives that have been adopted by individual states in 2021:
Colorado did away with preferences for children of alumni at the states’ public colleges and is no longer requiring applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores.
Illinois abolished cash bail.
Maine will now require all legislation being considered in the state to assess its potential impact on people of color.
Maryland barred local police departments from purchasing surplus equipment from the U.S. military and put the state’s attorney general’s office, not local police departments, in charge of investigating cases of police killings of civilians.
Virginia abolished the death penalty, enacted its own Voting Rights Act, adopted a “red flag” law that lets police confiscate guns from individuals when there is substantial evidence they pose a threat to themselves or others. It also cleared the way to rename roads and highways honoring Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee.
Of course, all is not perfect in Blue America — many of these states have huge wealth gaps, deep racial segregation and housing in some communities that is unaffordable to all but the rich. And some of these policies, particularly more liberal marijuana laws, are also being adopted in red states.
Still, one of the most important stories in American politics is how state-level Democrats over the past several years have started to embrace progressive policies and are in many ways enacting the “woke” agenda of the party’s left wing.
This dynamic raises the stakes for the Sept. 14 vote in California on whether to recall Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and the November gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia. In California, Democrats in the state legislature have big enough majorities to override the vetoes of a governor; that’s not the case in New Jersey or Virginia, where the election of a Republican would likely halt those states’ leftward shifts.
As blue state governments get more progressive while the red states get more Trumpy, we are truly becoming more and more Two Americas. I really like Louisville, where I live. But one of the challenges of living here isn’t just that the Republicans in Kentucky’s legislature often adopt laws that I disagree with, but that Kentucky Republicans, like those in other states, increasingly ban Democratic-leaning cities such as Louisville from passing policies that people in those cities support, like raising the minimum wage.
In contrast, living in a blue state isn’t just an opportunity to avoid bad laws. It’s a chance — a tantalizing one if you live in a red state like me — to witness a vision for a better America being implemented.