Two states in the U.S. have passed legislation increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, and neither of them are Massachusetts. That means it's time to take a look at which states have begun to challenge the commonwealth for the "liberal paradise" belt, and the likelihood of their success.
There are a handful of states that are obvious entries into the "liberal state" canon in addition to Massachusetts, namely New York, Vermont, California, and Oregon. We'd like to look at a few choices, however, that seem to go a bit under the radar, the ones who are currently making a play for the title, rather than those who already have it. These are the states making big, flashy moves on some key liberal issues: gay rights, gun control, labor, and marijuana policy.
Gallup actually did one measure of the most liberal states back in January, based on each state's population of liberal voters. Here's the breakdown, according to their polling:
You'll notice that a handful of strong blue states, namely Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, and Connecticut, are not on the top 10 list by population. Gallup posits that this is because these states benefit from a bump in solidly Democratic "moderate" voters, meaning that basically, the ranking by population model doesn't do much in the way of demonstrating how the state will vote (we've looked at this poll in more detail, here).
On the surface, Connecticut should be an unlikely candidate for this list: the state is a Connecticut was the first state to pass legislation increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. When Gov. Dan Malloy signed the bill into law, the state also became a model for a nation-wide Democratic push to pass similar bills through other states. Plus, the state legislature might be getting a Kennedy next term.
LGBT friendliness: high. Connecticut was the third state to legalize gay marriage, after Massachusetts and California. And as of late 2013, the state required insurance providers working there to cover treatments pertaining to gender transitions. The state's anti-discrimination laws bar discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender expression.
Gun control: very high. Connecticut, inspired by the Newtown tragedy in the state, now has some of the country's strictest gun control laws. The year-old laws are still attracting protests from gun advocates, including many out-of-staters who traveled there for a rally this past weekend. The laws ban the sale of high-capacity magazines and expanded the state's existing ban on the sale of assault weapons.
Marijuana friendliness: medium. Connecticut allows for medical, but not recreational, marijuana use. Possession of one-half ounce of marijuana or less, however, was recently downgraded from a misdemeanor to a non-criminal infraction, punishable by a fine.
Labor: high. In addition to the minimum wage ground — which won't take full effect until 2017 — Connecticut was the first state to pass a paid sick leave law in 2011. The minimum wage increases will happen gradually, with the first bump at the beginning of next year raising the minimum from $8.70 to $9.15.
The pitch for New Mexico's inclusion on this list leans heavily on its central role in a couple of LGBT rights cases in the news recently, thanks in part to its strong anti-discrimination clauses in the state constitution. Those protections are the mirror image of recent efforts to legalize discrimination against LGBT individuals, including in New Mexico's conservative neighbor Arizona.
LGBT friendliness: very high. Although the state just recently legalized same-sex marriage, it's the state's robust anti-discrimination protections that really stand out. Those protections, written into the state constitution, were a key factor in a case recently rejected by the Supreme Court concerning a wedding photographer's objection to working with LGBT clients. In that case, the photographer unsuccessfully challenged the state discrimination protections on First Amendment grounds.
Gun control: very low. New Mexico's very permissive gun laws might not appeal to some liberals. The state issues concealed carry permits. While to doesn't have a "castle doctrine" law on the books, a precedent set by the New Mexico Supreme Court in 1946 means that the state essentially protects "stand your ground" type claims in self defense cases.
Marijuana: medium-low. Although the state allows for some medical use, recent efforts to decriminalize minor marijuana infractions have failed in the state legislature.
Labor: medium. The state-wide minimum wage is $7.50 an hour, or just over the federal minimum. But, some municipalities in the state have higher minimums, like Albuquerque ($8.50) and Santa Fe ($10.66). That gives Santa Fe the third-highest minimum wage in the entire country, even if the whole state falls far behind.
Maryland made news this week for two bills that passed through the state's legislature at the end of its term: an increase in the minimum wage, and a marijuana decriminalization bill. Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley pledged his support for those bills, and promised to sign them into law.
LGBT-friendliness: high. Maryland has legal, same-sex marriage, and recently passed legislation to add protection of trans individuals to its anti-discrimination laws. The state already has protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Gun Control: high. Governor O'Malley approved a series of restrictive gun-control measures last year.
Marijuana friendliness: medium. Like Connecticut, Maryland's new "decriminalization" law applies only to small amounts of pot (in this case, 10 grams or less). Basically, possession of a small amount of the substance will result in a citation, not a misdemeanor, under the new law. Supporters of the moderate measures have argued that the enforcement of minor marijuana offenses in the state connects into a bigger problem there, of discriminatory practices by law enforcement officials.
Labor: medium-high. OK. So Maryland is the second state to increase the minimum wage to $10.10, which sounds good, right? The problem is, it comes with a catch. The wage increase won't go into effect until mid-2018 (it will gradually increase until then). And, the bill won't link future wage increases to inflation, another key demand of progressives supporting the measure. The minimum wages of tipped service employees will remain the same at $3.63 an hour. Currently, Maryland's minimum wage is the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.
So the recent pushes by a handful of states to become more friendly to liberals — or more accurately, some national legislative pushes from the Democratic party — are mixed. With the exception of gay rights, very few states are crossing the line from liberal moderate legislation to actually progressive policies. But if the national buzz surrounding the recent legislative moves in some states is any indication, then it looks like Democrats are figuring out some of the pages in the Republican playbook of successfully passing vote-getting laws on buzz-friendly issues.