Don’t be deceived by the temporary reopening of the federal government. Pollster Scott Rasmussen found the deal to end the shutdown had the approval of 73 percent of American voters but only 42 percent believe a permanent agreement can be reached within the three-week long window agreed to by President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump second-term plans remain a mystery to GOP Trump to hold outdoor rally in New Hampshire on Saturday Eighty-eight years of debt pieties MORE and congressional Democrats.

The divisions in Washington are real. So is the dysfunction but that doesn’t mean the work of government stops. There’s still plenty to be done if policymakers are willing to let the states lead in the search for solutions.


State legislators are mostly part-time government employees. Unlike members of Congress, they have other things to do and continue to live and work among the people who put them in office even while they’re commuting back and forth from the state capital. And because they’re so close to their constituents they don’t have the luxury of not voting or letting things grind to a halt. In 2018 over 100,000 pieces of legislation came to a vote in the nation’s 99 legislative chambers.

A common theme in American history is that states lead the way. States are considered first among equals. Never has that been more true than today. And, it doesn’t matter your political persuasion. Democrats and Republicans alike are moving policy in the states, and many of those policies wind their way to Washington, D.C. The states are on the front line, and state legislators are the front-line leaders. 

The GOP has control of the governorship and the legislature in 22 states across the country, from big states like Florida and Texas and Ohio to small ones like both Dakotas and Idaho. And in 16 states the GOP has supermajority control of both legislative chambers, meaning they can pass whatever they want regardless of what a Democratic governor may want. That’s fertile ground for anyone serious about creating a new agenda from the ground and grassroots up.

The Democrats have followed this model for years. Issues they’ve led on like marijuana legalization, marriage equality, and the green agenda gained national strength only after measures were adopted in individual states. The Republicans have the chance now to do the same on critical issues like the overabundance of occupational licensing requirements favored by special interest cartels to keep competition away. The GOP is in the forefront of the effort to remove unnecessary barriers blocking entrepreneurs from building businesses involving hair braiders, interior decorating, upholstery.

There’s room to build on the success of the 2018 federal tax cut. Already the Democrats are talking about restoring the deductibility of state income taxes, something that is really nothing less than a subsidy for the wealthiest taxpayers and people living in high tax states. No income tax states like Florida, Texas, and Tennessee put taxpayers first while liberal strongholds like New York and California want the rest of us to underwrite their free-spending ways.

That’s only the beginning. In some places, the unfunded liabilities that exist for state employee pension plans have brought things to the brink of bankruptcy. The renewed growth in the economy and the creation of so many new jobs have alleviated the pressure somewhat, making now the time to make reform a priority. Rather than raise taxes on an already overtaxed middle class, GOP leaders are leading the fight to allow new government employees to choose their own investment strategies through a defined-contribution plan, which acts like a 401K that the taxpayers cannot be held responsible for bailing out when sweetheart deals go bust and the problems caused by mismanagement come home to roost.

All this can even be accomplished on a non-partisan basis just like the criminal justice reform legislation that recently passed Congress and was signed into law by the president. These ideas started in the states, based on model policies created by ALEC.

The states are a market place of ideas. Many of the nonpartisan solutions we are seeing in the federal government got started in the states.

The beauty of the American system can be found in its ability to allow disagreement. As Madison wrote in Federalist 45, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal Government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State Governments are numerous and indefinite.” Rather than wait on Washington to lead, look to the states for the solutions to the problems confronting us. It’s where the best ideas are being tested and proven to work.

Lisa B. Nelson is the chief executive officer of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization bringing state legislators and stakeholders together to develop public policy beneficial to the free market and individual liberty.