I'm grateful that Illinois remains a blue island in the Midwestern Red Sea, with Governor Pat Quinn and a Democratic-led General Assembly ready to govern. January is in many ways the best month of the legislative calendar, because it is now when all things are possible. The deadline to submit bill ideas to the professional draftsmen and women is not until early February. Most legislators are open to ideas now, while they are putting together their legislative agenda.
The ideal bill is significant enough to improve people's lives if enacted, but not so large as to require a revolution in administration to implement. And with 177 legislators (about 95 of whom are in the Democratic majority), the path to a higher standard of living and a more just, progressive state is through dozens of these bite-sized bills, every year.
My favorite question for young people thinking about politics or government is to ask "If you were in charge, what would you change?" It has to be specific, concrete and ultimately helpful. This is the question always facing the progressive movement and the Democratic Party -- what would we change to make life better for regular people? And what change can we actually make this year?
For me, I plan to continue our path of change away from the government telling citizens they can not vote in an election because of some administrative barrier. I plan to continue our movement towards building high speed rail with actual bullet trains with my client the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. I hope we can finally make home birth safer with licensed providers and repeal the law that makes non-nurse midwives felons, on behalf of my client the Illinois Coalition for Midwifery. I plan to forge the nation's most innovative and progressive set of policies to support and grow small businesses with my client the Small Business Advocacy Council. And consistent with that mission of growing small businesses that generate jobs, I plan to work with my clients the Federation of Women Contractors and the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association to ensure Illinois' procurement dollars find their way to the smaller and diverse-owned businesses, not just the major legacy companies.
Don't let Republican control of the US House dampen your enthusiasm for implementing the progressive agenda. Aside from the obvious asset of the most progressive President in a generation in the White House and Democratic control of the Senate, there are some Republicans who fear the rising tide of the empty, angry anti-government ideology of the Tea Party in their own ranks and attempt to swim against that current. High speed rail is a good example of this internal debate, where only some Republicans take the self-defeating view that any taxpayer investment in infrastructure to improve our economy is by definition a bad idea. Some Republicans take the correct position that a taxpayer investment in high speed rail that generates real estate development, economic growth and less oil consumption is worth the money. The more we engage in the debate with our legislators and our fellow citizens on what we can do together through our government to improve our standard of living, the better.
Dream big in the New Year. The time to refine our big, game-changing proposals into more manageable laws and programs will come.