Most influential politicians? State legislators

Most peoples’ lives are affected by state lawmakers long before they’re affected by the elected national representatives who get the bulk of the coverage.


Political reporters, understandably, are enamored with the presidential aspirations of Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty. And analysts spend hours dissecting every move in Congress, where the hallmark is usually inaction.

But if there’s one thing that’s clear in advance of the 2012 elections, it’s this: The nation is pulled along by the elections that get almost no coverage from local media — legislative races.

Minnesota, for example, has 201 members in 67 legislative districts. It’s too many races to cover, so most news organizations don’t bother. They should.

The Associated Press carries a story today that shows why it’s a news problem worth solving: Most peoples’ lives are affected by state lawmakers long before they’re affected by the elected national representatives who do get the bulk of the coverage.

Minnesota wasn’t included in the AP’s roundup of how state lawmakers are pulling the country to the right, but it easily could have been.


Their successes, spurred by big election gains in November, go well beyond the spending cuts forced on states by the fiscal crunch and tea party agitation. Republican governors and state legislators are bringing abortion restrictions into effect from Virginia to Arizona, expanding gun rights north and south, pushing polling-station photo ID laws that are anathema to Democrats and taking on public sector unions anywhere they can.

All this as the thinned ranks of Democrats find themselves outmaneuvered in statehouses where they once put up a fight. In many states, they are unable to do much except hope that voters will see these actions as an overreach by the Republicans they elected – an accidental revolution to be reversed down the road.

Of course, it’s easy to see why the congressional candidates get all the coverage. Their campaigns usually start a few weeks after their election. State legislators usually don’t actively begin their campaigns until just a few months before the election.

But given their new prominence, it might be time for a fresh look at how to cover their races.