by Admin Jen
I was chatting recently with a friend who runs a rather large & popular liberal-leaning Facebook page. I asked her who her state representatives were. She named her Congressman and United States Senator. I said, “No no, your state legislators. The people who vote on stuff in your statehouse, that your governor has to sign.” She had no idea. And this was someone who is pretty passionate about politics, and really pays attention.
But she pays attention only at the national level, and it’s a common mistake. Now, it’s not that national politics don’t matter. After all, it’s not going to be your mayor declaring war on Afghanistan or authorizing bailouts of collapsing foreign governments. But that stuff is half important, half dog & pony show, and half Coliseum blood sport. (I realize that’s three halves. That tells you more about our national politics than it does about my brain, OK?)
The real action is in your state legislature. In case you were unsure, your state legislature is the gang of people that make and pass the bills that your governor signs into law. This is an entirely different gang from the one that marches off to Congress and the U.S. Senate, to argue and mostly not pass bills for President to sign into law.
State legislatures are often vastly more entertaining than Congress and the Senate. They are home to a great deal of really loopy legislation, probably because they think nobody’s paying much attention. And they’re right. Our totally unscientific WRUN poll showed that half of you have no idea who your state legislators are. It almost seems like they count on this: note how many legislatures are tucked away in the middle of nowhere, far from the large cities with lots of actual people in them (Harrisburg, PA? Albany, NY, anyone?). This is how you get real “put-your-feet-up-and-have-some-popcorn” type fun, like Kentucky’s law, “One may not dye a duckling blue and offer it for sale unless more than six are for sale at once.” Or Tennessee’s HB1783, which makes it illegal to share your Netflix password. Until recently, in Montana, if seven Native American Girl Scouts approached you trying to sell you thin mints, it would have been legal to shoot them, because more than six was legally considered an Indian raiding party. Kudos, Big Sky State, for catching up to the 19th century!
But don’t get lulled into the false sense of security that your state legislatures are all fun and games and Indian raiding parties. State legislatures are also, as Jon Stewart referred to them, the “meth labs of democracy,” wherein crazy people are able to run amok on issues that actually matter. North Dakota recently went wild with a sort of “Tough Mudder” style obstacle course of anti-abortion legislation; banning abortions at six weeks, banning abortions for sex selection and genetic disorders, banning them again at 20 weeks just in case you somehow made it past the other bans… while also defunding sex education for homeless teens. Because nothing says “it’s important to prevent abortions” like refusing to teach kids how not to get pregnant in the first place.
Members of North Carolina’s legislature recently tried to establish Christianity as the state religion, in total defiance of that pesky First Amendment. Texas, in its zeal to reduce abortions, cut off funding to any clinic that even looked like it might have ever had anything to do with Planned Parenthood, and in the process, cut thousands of low-income rural and urban women off from their contraceptives; they are now scratching their heads in puzzlement a year later as their tab for Medicaid births goes through the roof. Arizona gave us the “show us your papers” law (which was challenged and partially struck down by the Supreme Court), not only making racial profiling mandatory, but making it possible for the citizenry to sue the police if they didn’t feel the police were being racial-profile-y enough. That was a few years before the law that made it totally legal and fine for a doctor to lie to his pregnant patient about her pregnancy if he thinks the truth might cause her to abort. Genetic abnormality? Non-viable fetus? Potentially deadly tubal pregnancy? Too bad.
Michigan’s legislature handed the governor the authority to toss out any duly elected official of a financially troubled municipal body (that could be a mayor, a school board president, etc) and install a person or CORPORATION of his/her choice. Then they gave the world “right to work” (or, “legalized union-busting”) laws, and the baffling decision that you need a tax credit for a fetus but an actual born child… eh, not so much.
Meanwhile, Virginia has legislated against all sex except that between men and women, in the missionary position. I’m not sure you’re even allowed to have the lights on; you’ll have to check with Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
And Wisconsin? I can’t even talk about Wisconsin. Just go google “horrible laws passed under Governor Scott Walker” and try your best not to stab your eyes out.
Now, it’s not all bad news. Some lawmakers in places like Texas and South Carolina are trying to introduce laws saying that sex education classes have to contain actual correct information. I know, please try to contain yourselves. South Carolina’s is still too new to know what will happen (we’re hopeful as it was introduced by two Republicans), and Texas’s attempt at this didn’t pass (#headdesk), but still, you kind of have to applaud the effort. Enough state legislatures have decided to recognize marriage equality that it sort of qualifies as a movement. Washington and Colorado have legalized marijuana for recreational use. I’m still trying to figure out why we haven’t moved there yet.
And with all that, still, at least half of you have no idea who’s representing you in matters of everyday importance in your state. So, for Pete’s sake. Find out! Show up and vote in those races. Find out who your state senators and/or assemblymen are and write them, call them, or stop by their office and tell them what you want from them. They probably have one in your neighborhood, by the very nature of the job, and they have to listen to you. You’re a constituent, and they need to know what you want in order to do their jobs properly. Otherwise they’re just left to their own devices.
And I think we’ve seen enough about what kinds of shenanigans go on when that happens: racial profiling, defunded sex education, and illegal blue ducklings.
Please. Find your legislators here, at this link: