The Case for Progressive Governance


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We want to build a Connecticut of opportunity, no matter where someone was born or who they are, they can thrive and prosper. We want our state to have a strong economy and great schools, with vibrant, healthy, and pleasant cities and neighborhoods.

The usual follow-up paragraph to that opening, in a column like this, would go on to detail all the ways (small and large) that Connecticut fails to achieve these goals. We would dwell on some policy failure, talk about everything we do wrong, and proceed to ask everyone involved to do better. Today, however, I want to point out something easily forgotten despite all our mistakes and blind spots, Connecticut and many of our blue state peers across the nation do in fact achieve a truly remarkable share of those ideals, especially compared to those places run by conservatives.

Consider, for instance, the very simple clear metric of economic prosperity. On average, the Gross Domestic Product per capita of blue states is close to 30% higher than in red states. The gap has actually increased in recent years, as places like Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, Minnesota, or Washington have grown their economies at a much faster rate than GOP-run states. States run by progressives have been incredibly successful, not just generating prosperity but creating whole new industries and innovation.

Looking at GDP per capita, however, could be quite misleading, especially if all this prosperity is held in the hands of the very few. Remarkably, despite economic inequality, blue states have been consistently better at translating this economic wealth into better outcomes across the board.

We can start with life expectancy, a very clear indicator on health outcomes. Of the top ten states with the longest life expectancy in 2019 (most recent year with non-pandemic data), not a single one was run by Republicans: Utah was 11th. Nine out of the bottom ten are run by the GOP, with New Mexico as the sole Democratic outlier. Mississippians live on average, seven fewer years than Californians or New Yorkers.

These disparities remain consistent for pretty much every single social or economic outcome you can come up with, across the board. Homicide rates in red states were 33% higher in both 2021 and 2022; the three most violent states in the nation, by some distance, are Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. On education outcomes, eight of the top ten states are run by Democrats (the only exceptions are Utah and Virginia); predictably, seven of the bottom ten have conservative governors. We can look at child poverty, as well, where (again) red states take nine out of the bottom ten states (New Mexico is the consistent outlier), seven of the top best states are blue. On overall poverty, we find exactly the same pattern, with red states crowding at the bottom and mostly blue states at the top.

I could go on and on, listing stats and indicators for several pages, the vast majority of them repeating the same overall story: blue states deliver vastly better outcomes than red states to its residents across the board, and Connecticut is, over and over again, close to the top of the pack.

The explanation behind these disparities is quite simple: public policy. Once in power, progressives pass legislation focused on offering good public services, creating opportunity, and helping those that need the most. They approve measures that give workers a stronger voice in the workplace and support strong labor unions. They are willing to raise money through taxes to fund great schools, offer quality public services, and provide a strong safety net to those that fall behind. They expand Medicaid to extend health care coverage to as many people as possible, work hard to offer quality early care and education for children, raise the minimum wage, create programs that support families like paid family leave, guarantee labor rights and safe workplaces with measures like paid sick leave or predictable scheduling, and support working families across the board.

As it turns out, these policy measures work. They work both for families and individuals, and actually for businesses too. Blue states are wealthier, healthier, have stronger social mobility, better jobs, cleaner air, and grow much faster per capita than red states. It turns out that more progressive leaders, once in power, deliver better policy outcomes, and do it consistently.

This doesn’t mean, obviously, that Connecticut, New York, California, or Massachusetts are anywhere near perfect. My whole day job, after all, entails loudly yelling at our elected officials and candidates that we should be doing better; you can browse years of columns on this site prior to this one with a long list of complaints and grievances. Blue states tend to be consistently dreadful at addressing their really high housing costs, a direct result of high housing demand (because people want to move here), and our New York neighbors have been impressively dysfunctional with the whole congestion pricing debacle. Governance in some of our cities is occasionally dreadful, and racial disparities are broad. I could rant about everything we do wrong in Connecticut for days.

Overall, however? This is a great place to live.

Come this November, we will face yet another election where a set of Republican candidates talk gloom and doom about blue states and tout all the nice things red states are doing and how we are falling behind. Some will even go to bat supporting a Presidential candidate that besides being convicted of dozens of felonies, is focused on cutting taxes on the rich, repealing Obamacare, and letting big businesses run rampant. But the evidence is clear – these policies have not worked in red states. If we want to move forward, we need bold, forceful, innovative progressive ideas, not looking back.