Following this mix of rising stars and veteran legislators in Austin, Texas, Lansing, Mich., Harrisburg, Penn., and other capitals is key to understanding the issues that will frame the lives of millions of Americans — and feed a burgeoning 2024 campaign cycle.
A host of heated discussions are taking place over spending, taxes and labor. These are the state legislators you should be watching.
Rep. Joanna McClinton
Since the midterms, the Pennsylvania House has been mired in drama with both sides claiming power over the lower chamber. surprise post-election twists, including a lawmaker’s death. After weeks of intense intraparty negotiation, there was some clarity when the House appointed a new speaker.
Joanna McClinton was the Democratic leader and speaker until this week. This made her the first Black woman, and the first Black woman, to assume the office. On Tuesday, however, she stepped aside and gave her support to moderate Democratic Rep. Mark Rozzi, who said he will act as an independent and won’t caucus with either party.
McClinton’s power will not be diminished as Democrats consolidate their state standing in the midterms thanks to the elections of Sen. John Fetterman. McClinton could also make another bid for the speakership if Democrats win some special elections that would restore their majority.
McClinton said she is focused on expanding health care coverage, affirming abortion rights, ending wage theft and rewriting laws related to the criminal justice system — work that’s influenced by her career as a public defender.
“I’ve got a real passion for pursuing justice, standing up and advocating for folks in a system that is far too crowded,” she said in an interview.
Sen. Kim Ward
Kim Ward, the Senate’s top Republican, was last session reelected as the first female majority leader.
She led efforts to establish a work authorization system for employees and supported expanding child abuse protections. She also spearheaded legislation mandating statewide Covid-19 disease reporting and limiting the governor’s ability to extend state emergency declarations in pandemics.
Ward, in an interview, said she wants to work with Democrats on issues that will benefit Pennsylvania, not on “ideological issues that are never going to go anywhere.”
Del. Moore Capito
Republican Del. Moore Capito is the next generation of a West Virginia political dynasty — and a test for how much weight the name still carries.
After winning his fourth term at the state House, Capito announced that he would be running for governor. Capito, the son of Sen. Shelly Moore CapitoArch Moore, the grandson of former Gov. Arch Moore. His cousin, the state Treasurer Riley Moore is running for Congress in 2024.
“We are going to need somebody with the grit and the experience to be able to take West Virginia to the next level,” Capito said in an interview. Republican Governor. Jim Justice, a former Democrat who is currently term-limited, is believed to be looking at a run for Senate.
Capito, who was chair of West Virginia Republican Legislative Committee used a winning candidate recruitment strategy for 2020 elections. This resulted in Republicans gaining 18 seats in West Virginia’s state House and winning a supermajority.
Capito stated his focus on the statehouse since 2016, when he was elected, has been to attract young people to West Virginia. He also wants to make the state a hub for technology and entrepreneurship. He backed the creation of a fintech “sandbox” in 2020 that aims to incentivize tech companies to test products and services within the state by temporarily lifting business regulations. He intends to expand this into the energy industry in 2018.
Rep. Dade Phelan
After one of the most conservative legislative sessions ever, Texas speaker Dade Phelan is well-placed to decide how hot this year’s deep-red lower chamber. In 2021, Phelan, a Republican, oversaw sweeping changes to the state’s abortion and elections laws before they rippled across the country during Texas’ legislative break last year.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is an influential member of the state Senate. He also set a multiitem agenda in this year’s chamber. He has voiced his frustrations about Phelan, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott since last session. Phelan has spoken out about taxes and education in recent months but has not made any official announcements regarding his legislative priorities or any information that could shed light on possible conflicts with Patrick.
Phelan is a skilled facilitator of contentious legislation. Despite outcries from state Democrats, nearly every GOP priority passed last session — leading the minority party to flee the state for D.C. in a dramatic attempt to halt a special session called to cement new elections laws they considered too restrictive. Abbott threatened to arrest the legislators upon their return from Austin. Phelan signed warrants and also worried that lawmakers might be detained. cause “un-repairable harm” to his chamber.
Rep. Pat Grassley
Iowa Speaker Pat Grassley has a famous last name — and it’s long been speculated that he plans to run for his grandfather’s Senate seat when it opens up.
But it may be awhile before the younger Grassley takes on federal politics: Sen. Chuck Grassley, 89, was reelected in November to his eighth term and Pat Grassley has dismissed the notion that he’s been preordained as his grandfather’s successor as a “conspiracy theory.”
Instead, Grassley is focusing on consolidating his influence in the state Legislature over his 15-year tenure in the Iowa House. Senate Republicans earned a supermajority in November, one of the GOP’s biggest wins in the midterms, and the party is expected to use its boosted statewide influence to enact conservative policies.
Iowa could set an example on school choice — it’s a top priority for Gov. Kim Reynolds is a long-standing advocate for legislation in the House. Grassley has set up the infrastructure that could allow her to succeed in creating a new education panel this session, which will examine changes to K-12 systems.
Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant
One of the most interesting — and fraught — fights over Republican ambitions to restrict abortion access is likely to play out in Virginia. While abortion is legal in Virginia during the first and third trimesters of pregnancy, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin seeks to ban the procedure in large part after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant is among the four Republicans he’s asked to draft the legislation — an OB/GYN, and the only medical professional in the group.
The 2021 election saw the Republicans take control of the state House, with a five seat majority. Youngkin was elected governor. The Senate is controlled by Democrats by one seat. Those narrow margins — and the state’s purple politics — make passing abortion restrictions tricky.
Dunnavant is a Richmond suburbs representative and has a strong voting record against abortion. She also supported a Texas law banning abortions at 20 weeks, with some exceptions for the life and severe fetal anomalies. However, she did not support rape or incest.
Rep. Juan Porras
Juan Porras (Republican Rep.) will be the youngest member in the Florida House at 25. His election helps mark a new era for Miami-area politics, which has steadily grown redder since Donald Trump’s election in 2016 (Porras’ district includes an unincorporated strip of Miami-Dade County).
“We’re seeing a huge shift, especially here in south Florida,” Porras said in an interview. “A lot of the Hispanic communities and younger communities are leaning more toward conservative ideas and voting Republican.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis became first GOP candidate for governor to win the county after two decades. He carried downballot Republicans to victory.
Porras defeated Democrat Gabriel Gonzalez, a fellow Gen Z candidate.
He has said the statehouse — where he worked as an intern — should bring more accountability to homeowners association fraud, a major issue in his district, which contains sprawling condo complexes with thousands of units. He’s also a supporter of school choice, an issue he’ll work on as a member of the education committee.
Sen. Jason Anavitarte
Georgia Sen. Jason Anavitarte helped found it state’s first Hispanic legislative caucus last year with a GOP state representative, a move meant to reflect the rapid growth of Georgia’s Latino populations. This year, the General Assembly has six Hispanic members for the first time.
“My Republican colleagues and I aim not only to deliver strong representation to one of our state’s most important communities — but to send a clear message that Hispanic values will be at the front and center of conversations under the Gold Dome for years to come,” Anavitarte said.
Anavitarte attracted attention in December because he drafted legislation to ban TikTok’s app in Georgia. states tried last year. It mirrors the U.S. Senate-approved measureThe ban would apply to all government-issued devices. However, it is not clear how the House will vote.
The Polk County senator for state pushed for a last cycle. “constitutional carry” billRepublican Gov. Brian Kemp’s priorities, that would allow residents to carry guns without a license in most public spaces.
Sen. Winnie Brinks
Michigan is the epicenter of Democratic politicsThe party won both chambers of state Legislature elections last fall, and retained control over the governorship. Democrats are under immense pressure to use their trio of victories by enacting progressive priorities. They must agree on where they should start.
Winnie Brinks will be the new Senate Majority Leader, becoming the first woman to hold this position. Brinks will work with Joe Tate, the first Black Speaker of the Michigan House, in setting that agenda. However, the list of demands from progressive advocates and voters for priority treatment is lengthy.
“We’re ready for this,” Brinks said in an interview. She cited affirming abortion rights — which Michigan voters came out in droves to protect via ballot measure in the wake of Roe v. Wade’s fall last year — as an early order of business. She also wants to reform tax policies she feels burden workers families.
Brinks faces the challenge of keeping the peace between the progressive wing of the caucus — which is eager to repeal right-to-work rules and pursue other pro-labor actions — and moderates urging caution and bipartisanship. Brinks herself said Democrats must be “thoughtful about how we attack our agenda.”
She added: “At the end of the day I’m happy to have the challenges of the majority instead of the challenges of the minority.”
Rep. Margaret Croke
Margaret Croke, Illinois state rep., was quickly a leader for the next generation in Democratic leadership during her first term. She’s introduced bills that have been signed into law, including one that expands the definition of infertility in Illinois to include same-sex couples, single women, and others looking to start or grow a family.
Croke pushed for the measure after getting a phone call from a constituent — a pediatrician who is gay and who pointed out financial burdens on families like his when insurance isn’t an option.
“I love how that bill came up organically from a constituent,” she said in an interview. It’s not the first bill that she’s taken on with a resident in mind. Croke is working together with the family members of a boy who committed suicide online because he was bullied by cyber-bullying to pass cyber-bullying laws.
“I love constituent services. It began with property taxes and helping people to get cash back when needed. It made me so happy,” Croke said, referring to her work with a Cook County commissioner.
The Illinois Democrat also helped champion a law making Illinois the first state in the nation to require EMTs to be trained to diagnose Alzheimer’s and dementia. A version of the bill she introduced last year is part a high-profile 2023 bill that allows Illinois residents to sue gun dealers, manufacturers, and importers whose firearms cause injury or death in Illinois.
Lorena Austin, the newly drawn Mesa district’s representative, won one of the most closely-watched legislative races in the nation. This helped Democrats to overtake the Republican majority in the state Legislature. Seth Blattman was her campaign partner and they defeated two Republicans, Mary Ann Mendoza (an opponent vocal of illegal immigration, Trump’s ally) and Kathy Pearce.
Austin is a descendant Mexican-born immigrants.
“People are not looking for what we traditionally view politicians to be,” Austin said in an interview. “They’re looking for authentic people who are doing things in the community — who are accessible, who are visible and who they can come to.”
Austin is a community college advisor and wants to improve Arizona’s public education, which has a reputation for being among the worst in the country. She also wants to address the rising cost of housing, which she says is a “resounding” issue in her district and throughout the state.
Sen. Kari Dziedzic
Minnesota Democrats are entering 2023 with a trifecta after the party flipped the Senate in last year’s midterms, opening up another huge political opportunity for Democrats in the Midwest for the first time in nearly a decade.
Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic will have to navigate the Democratic-Farmer-Labor’s slim one-seat majority in the chamber. She is known for being a cautious leader, who loves to work with Republicans. She is also a strong advocate for working with Republicans. an early preview of the DFL agenda, Dziedzdic said there will be a focus on kids’ mental health and education, climate change and economic security.
The state has a huge surplus of $17.6 million that Democrats are eager to put to long-sought progressive causes. Democratic Governor. Tim Walz has stated that education and family policies are his top goals. This could be possible by offering child care subsidies for families struggling to pay the rising costs of daycare.
This report was contributed by Marissa Martinez, Shia Kapos and Shia Kapos.
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