Can the States Save Our Democracy?

© 2016 by Hedrick Smith. Republished with permission from the author. Smith is the executive editor of reclaimtheamericandream.org.

WASHINGTON — In this tumultuous election year, little attention has focused on the groundswell of support for political reform across grass-roots America. Beyond Bernie Sanders’s call for a political revolution, a broad array of state-level citizen movements are pressing for reforms against Citizens United, gerrymandering and campaign megadonors to give average voters more voice, make elections more competitive, and ease gridlock in Congress.

This populist backlash is in reaction to two monumental developments in 2010: the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling authorizing unlimited corporate campaign donations, and a Republican strategy to rig congressional districts. Together, they have changed the dynamics of American politics.

That January, Justice John Paul Stevens warned in his dissent that Citizens United would “unleash the floodgates” of corporate money into political campaigns, and so it has. The overall funding flood this year is expected to surpass the record of $7 billion spent in 2012.

Later in 2010, the Republican Party’s “Redmap” strategy won the party control of enough state governments to gerrymander congressional districts across the nation the following year. One result: In the 2014 elections, Republicans won 50.7 percent of the popular vote and reaped a 59-seat majority.

Now, with Congress often gridlocked by Republicans from those safe districts, the initiative on reform has shifted to the states. Insurgency has spread beyond California and New York to unlikely Republican bastions like Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska and South Dakota.

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Editor’s note: This article originally published in The New York Times on August 20, 2016. It has been shared with permission from the author.

Photo Credit: Sean Locke Photography / shutterstock.com