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Political Polarization Is Not a Driver of Gridlock at the State Level

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President Donald Trump delivers the 2019 State of the Union.

Observers of Congress frequently blame party polarization for gridlock. The notion seems a pretty straightforward one: If the parties are ideologically far apart from each other, it’s harder to broker the compromises that are often vital to legislative work. What’s more, the minority party will see any work by the majority as hostile to its interests and beliefs and will work even harder to undermine the majority’s work in a polarized system. Observers can point to plenty of evidence that, as Congress has gotten more polarized, it has become less productive, facing gridlock on more and more of its agenda.

Yet we see a different story at the state level: Several states—particularly Colorado—continue to provide examples of legislatures that can actually be quite productive even while the parties are deeply divided.

Colorado’s legislature just finished its 2019 session a few weeks ago. Media coverage suggests it was a highly productive session, with Democrats, who took unified control of the government following the 2018 elections, delivering on most of their campaigning agenda. These achievements included one of new Governor Jared Polis’ top priorities, full-day kindergarten, along with some criminal justice reform laws, new regulations of the oil and gas industry, a controversial “red flag” law preventing some gun purchases, a ban on gay conversion therapy, and more.

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