NCSL Podcasts

David Toscano on How States Shape the Nation | LTIS Episode 6

Episode Summary

On this episode of “Legislatures: The Inside Storey,” NCSL CEO Tim Storey, talks with David Toscano, a seven-term legislator in the Virginia House of Delegates. He held the seat once occupied by Thomas Jefferson in the Virginia House of Burgesses. First elected in 2005, he served as Democratic leader in the House from 2011 to 2018. In 2021, Toscano published “Fighting Political Gridlock: How States Shape Our Nation and Our Lives.” He talked with Tim about the critical role of states in affecting our daily lives, how states have led the way on a number of critical issues and, in contrast, how increasingly ineffective the legislatures is at the federal level. He also talked about the need to increase people’s understanding of the role of state government.

Episode Notes



Episode Transcription

Voice:     Hello and welcome to “Legislatures: The Inside Story.”  A podcast from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Your host is Tim Storey, the CEO of NCSL. Tim talks with legislators, journalists, academics, political analysts and others about the ideas and policies shaping state legislatures today. Tim’s guest for this podcast is David Toscano, a seven-term legislator in the Virginia House of Delegates, who held the seat once occupied by Thomas Jefferson in the Virginia House of Burgesses. First elected in 2005, he served as Democratic Leader in the House from 2011 to 2018. In 2021, Toscano published “Fighting Political Gridlock:  How States Shape Our Nation and Our Lives.” He talked with Tim about the critical role of states in affecting our daily lives, how states have led the way on a number of critical issues. And, in contrast, how increasingly ineffective the legislature is at the federal level. He also talked about the need to increase people’s understanding of the role of state government. Here is their discussion. 


Tim:        Hello. This is Tim Storey once again, your host for the NCSL podcast “The Inside Story” about the legislature. I am, as always, just super excited because I just love talking to interesting people and once again, we’ve managed to get somebody on the podcast who I know is going to be really interesting and has a fascinating background who knows legislatures inside and out. And that is Delegate David Toscano from Virginia. So, thank you so much David for being with us today. 


David:     It’s great to be with you.


Tim:        We are going to dive right in and sort of, you know, help our listeners know more about your long history in and around state governments and state legislatures. So, I know … I think you are from Charlottesville, Virginia, but take us into the way back machine and tell us your story to bring us to today.


David:     I guess you could say I’m just a small-town country lawyer that is practicing law in Charlottesville, Virginia. And I’ve been in public service at least until I retired recently for twenty-five years. Twelve years in local office including Mayor of Charlottesville. And then fourteen years in the legislature holding the successor’s seat to the one that was held by Thomas Jefferson way, way back. I was the democratic leader in the Virginia House for seven years in the early 2010’s and got the Democrats to the point where they were within a coin toss of being at parity with the Republicans in the House of Delegates. So, I’m the luckiest guy in the world living in a great place and representing great people and I’ve just written this book and it has given me a lot of opportunity to talk about things I really enjoy which are states and how important they are to the future of the country. 


Tim:        Did you grow up in and around the Western part of Virginia, not West Virginia, but in and around the Charlottesville part of the country?


David:     Well, you know it’s an interesting story. I grew up in Upstate New York, Syracuse, New York. I graduated and went to school up in Upstate New York, Colgate University. Then I went onto grad school at Boston College. Got a Ph.D. there. I came down to Virginia and just found myself a job at the University of Virginia teaching Sociology. I decided to go to law school a couple of years later and I’ve been practicing since the mid 80s. So, I’ve just really been lucky in my life and had a lot of great experiences. 


(TM):  03:43



Tim:        When you were on the UVA faculty, which not everybody may know is the University of Virginia that is in Charlottesville. Home of Thomas Jefferson which I love that historic connection. Who wouldn’t?  And so, you are teaching there and decided to go to law school. What prompted you to do that?


David:     Well, I guess like a number of people my age, when I graduated from college, it was all about trying to figure out a way to change the world. And I went to grad school thinking that I would change the world by teaching people. And then I decided well maybe I could change the world by being an attorney and advocating for people in court. And that’s why I moved from academia to law. You know I was interested in teaching primarily and not research and writing at the time. And certainly not doing a lot of the quantitative analysis that a lot of academics were doing at the time. So, I said, well this is another profession that I can undertake, and I’ve enjoyed every single minute of it since. 


Tim:        I’m always curious about a little more of the back stories of how people wind up, you know, where they are especially in the legislature eventually. So, you know that seems like an unusual path to come from the sociology world into the legal world. Did you practice, so you practiced in Charlottesville at the same time you were running for mayor, becoming the mayor or before that?


David:     I finished up my law degree and opened up a small firm in Charlottesville. And I decided about five years into my practice that I saw things going on ... the city that people were doing who were in an elective office that I thought I could do better. So, I offered myself for election and won and then won again and became mayor and then won again. And then when the delegate from this area, who had been there for 24 years, decided to retire, I said well, I see all the things that we can do at the state level so I’m going to go for that. And I was elected immediately into this minority within the House of Delegates in Richmond. And that was an experience that was so shocking because they just really did things differently in Richmond. They talk about one of the cardinal rules of politics, which is that you have to learn how to count. When I was on the City Council in Charlottesville, I had to count to three because there were only five members. Now I had to start counting to seven and then I had to count again and then I had to count again and then it went over to the Senate, and I had to figure out a way to count again. And there was always a governor out there willing to veto something that he didn’t like, so there were a lot of things that you had to learn. 


               I guess the sociological background was helpful because you learned a little bit about structures and informal norms of a body and how you respect those norms and those values. And how you respect other people in order to get things done. I like to think I got a few things done while I was there.


Tim:        Help me with the timeline. When did you get elected to the House, the House of Delegates?


David:     I was elected to the House in the fall of 2005. I was elected the same year the Tim Kaine was elected governor. I came in at that time and I think there might have been 37 Democrats out of a total of 100 delegates. The Senate was probably controlled maybe by one or two votes by the Democrats at the time. It went back and forth constantly through my time in Richmond. But much of my time in legislature was in the House where we were in the minority. And that just puts a very different wrinkle on how you approach your job. 


Tim:        Just a little more background before we dive into the book. Virginia had been held by the Democrats of course for probably over 100 years, ah, up until the early 2000’s. It probably only went to the Republicans in--I’m sort of guessing—'02. Well, you guys have that odd year election. ’01 or ’03. Somewhere in that range. Well, it might have been before that. It might have been in the ’90s. I take that back.


David:     No, it was really about 2000. And of course, it was a different Democratic party. I mean you had a party that was pretty much the Dixiecrats. Charlottesville had been kind of a liberal haven, so it didn’t have the Dixiecrats controlling the Charlottesville Democratic party. But it was a very different Democratic party and the changes over the last 20 years in Virginia have been unbelievable. But you’ve got to remember, I’m a guy coming from the North. You know, I walk in, and I would spend time in the libraries in the North and the paintings I would see on the wall were paintings of Abraham Lincoln. You never saw a painting of Abraham Lincoln in a public library in Virginia. You’d see Robert E. Lee and you’d see statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson all over the place.


Tim:        And Thomas Jefferson too, right?  I mean. And Jefferson and Madison and Monroe. You know all those Virginians who were in the founding fathers' group. But I take your point and it’s also reassuring to me that the House of Delegates. Not only are you in Thomas Jefferson’s seat, you know he was in the House of Delegates before becoming President and his many other things he did in his resume. You know, it's also the oldest Legislature in the United States. Right?  The House of Burgesses is the, you know, forebearer of the House of Delegates. 


David:     With the exception of the House of Commons, it’s the longest consecutively operating Democratic body. 


Tim:        In the western world?  Well in the world period. That’s an interesting pedigree to this whole background that you bring to sort of looking at today’s politics. And it’s a little more background for me. Who was the Speaker?  Was Bill Howell the speaker … the whole time you were a minority leader or Democratic leader?


(TM):  09:30


David:     When I came in, Bill Howell was the speaker and he retired two years before I did. He was the Speaker the entire time. There was a two-year Speaker, Kirk Cox and then he left when the Democrats took control. So, it was really Bill Howell and me duking it out every day on the floor when I would be raising procedural motions and questions about different bills that perhaps the Democrats didn’t care for so much. 


(TM):  09:57


Tim:        So, we have alluded to the fact that you have a new book I guess just published in only the last few months. A month or two formally. The University of Virginia Press?  Is it through the University of Virginia?


David:     Yes, it’s called “Fighting Political Gridlock: How States Shape Our Nation and Our Lives.”  Senator Mark Warner wrote the foreword to the book. It was published by the University of Virginia Press this September. It’s getting some good traction so I hope people will pick it up. And you know it’s written at a great time because there are so many things going around in the states right now. The book opens with the discussion of how states reacted to the pandemic. People think that the federal government has all the power, but you know Joe Biden couldn’t put in a mask mandate across the country even if he wanted to because it really wouldn’t be constitutional. But the governors could. And that’s what they did. The book starts with a discussion of executive power in the governors throughout all the states and how those policies started to be enacted. Not by legislatures which is very interesting, but by governors. And in fact, the governors pretty much left legislatures out of the mix and now you’ve got this sort of backlash to that where a lot of legislatures are saying well wait a minute now. I think this is too much power and they are trying to cut back on the governor’s ability to enact these emergency orders.


(TM):  11:37


Tim:        Believe me, I heard a lot about that from both parties. And I think it is probably because of the access of the Legislatures. You know they were hearing it daily from many constituents who did or did not like necessarily what the Governors were doing. And of course, the Governors were acting in their emergency capacity. And a lot of States went back and reviewed those emergency capacity laws like how long does this band aid exist so it's a fascinating topic. Why now?When did you start the book and what made you decide to write this book now?


David:     I actually started the book two years ago. I kept notebooks of my time in the legislature for all 14 years, so I had been keeping you know notes on this for a while. I originally intended on writing a book that encompassed all 25 years of my experience. But my editor looked at it and it was … over 1,000 pages, and she said you can’t publish this. So, we broke it in two and this one is all about states and a national focus. There is another one coming later about Virginia and that experience over 20 years. 


               I just thought that people just don’t understand how significant the states are in everything that happens in this country. I mean I think people are starting to wake up a little bit more because redistricting is before us. But you know a lot of people don’t even realize that redistricting is a state function. They think that the Congress redistricts or at least they think that Congress draws their own lines when in reality the legislatures do it. And the way the legislatures draw the lines determines a lot about who gets elected to Congress and therefore what politics are enacted by Congress. So, you think about that and in the context of the last federal election, you begin to see the states can have incredible power in what goes on. 


               Beyond that of course, we’ve got everything from education to criminal justice. I mean people think it’s the federal government plan that led to higher rates of incarceration around the country when in reality it’s all state policy, pretty much state policy. It is state laws that people violate. It’s state prisons that they go and serve in. And its state rules that allow them either to get out early or stay longer. So, all of these things have a role to play in how our lives are affected and a lot of people just are so focused on Washington, they don’t pay attention to the states.


(TM):  14:15


Tim:        Yeah, I mean you honestly are preaching to a very sympathetic ear as someone who believes that maybe the States are appropriately the right place to be making policy on these big issues in partnership with the local governments that fit to that as well. Is there any?  You cited criminal justice you know and CJ issues, but are there any like antidote for factoid that brings this home?  You know that the American public--and I haven’t checked this in a while--but the last time I saw less than 17% of Americans could name one of their state legislators. I’m sure it is higher for Congress. Probably not dramatically higher, but you know certainly everyone knows the president. Probably people know their … they probably know their governor or at some higher rate. But the disconnect between the general public’s knowledge of the impact of the state policy, you know the state capital is on their lives versus Washington on their lives. Anything that just really brings it home for you?


(TM):  15:17


David:     Well, there are a couple, I mean, there are lots of examples out there, but one that I sort of fixed on immediately was this issue about water. And I got interested in what happened in Flint, Michigan, in the last decade where Flint made a decision to change the source of its water supply. Everyone thinks that that was done at a local level and to some extent it was. But it was a function of state policy. Michigan has a law that allows the state to essentially impose an emergency manager on a city that is in financial stress, which makes some sense because you want to try to help cities. And in Flint, of course, had undergone deindustrialization for years. It was a very, very poor city and Michigan the state stepped in through the governor and said we are going to take over this this city. And the emergency manager made a decision that to save water, they would get water for the city from a different source. They didn’t treat the water and what happened was that the lead pipes, the pipes in the city started to corrode. People started to get sick. Some people died and something that was supposed to save the city a lot of money in the end has cost millions of millions of dollars and it’s still not fixed. 


And then there are other things. … Think about energy. I mean think about what happened in Texas just a year ago where Texas was hit with a surprise, pretty dramatic snowstorm and their entire grid almost went out. Now you say to yourself, well that’s a federal issue. Well, it is, and it isn’t because the Texas legislature and the Texas state government years ago made a decision that they were going to separate Texas from the national grid. They had their own grid for electricity, and they also made another decision. … They decided that they were going to keep rates low for consumers. An admirable goal, but what it meant was you didn’t have money to reinvest into the system to create resiliency against this kind of dramatic event. So that’s a state decision that was made. A couple of state decisions that had a really dramatic effect on Texas. 


And so, you have a whole series of these things that seem to come out of nowhere. But when you drill down more carefully, many of them are state issues that need to get resolved. 


Tim:        I mean and then the other side of the coin what’s not being resolved in Washington. I’m not going to be entirely accurate, so I’ll imprecise as I say this, but roughly in the 117th Congress was I think was the last. I think we are in 118 now if memory serves. I could have that slightly wrong. The last Congress. The two-year biennial Congress that … President Trump was in the White House. Democrats controlled the House and I think Republicans controlled the Senate. So, you’ve got a divided government. They enact roughly 400 pieces of legislation and roughly a third of those are to rename a federal building or to issue a commemorative coin. And then there is another. You know many of them were continuations, extend laws that were up for expiration. So, they are just not able to do major policy in Washington. Now, of course, there were some big COVID stimulus Relief packages. I don’t want to imply that Congress does nothing with the president. But at the same time, states had passed tens of thousands of pieces of legislation. 


(TM):  18:59


David:     We’d do 400 in a day. I mean, it’s amazing how fast the state legislatures work versus the federal government. I didn’t mean to interrupt you, but that’s the case.


Tim:        No, no that’s a great point. I love that actually. And it drives home the point. And it’s not to say that more bills and more legislation are the right or best thing. There is obviously a balance there. Back to the old saying of “The Republic is safe again; the Legislature has adjourned” or something along those lines. What were the other takeaways?When you started thinking about this big question of what happens in the state capital versus what happens in Washington. You know, what did you take away from that?


David:     Here’s another example, Tim, and I think you can appreciate this. I mean there are examples from the progressive side and examples from the conservative side where states have to get in and do stuff that people want to have done that’s not being done at the federal level. So, on the progressive side, people are very concerned about climate change, and we are hoping that the federal government would do something about it because really it is kind of a federal problem. But what you are seeing because the feds are really inactive on this is you are seeing states step up and do things that are creative. In the Northeast, for example, a consortium of states created this Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. They call it RGGI … in which a group of states, I think it’s nine or maybe 10 now, are joined together to try to cut emissions in their states and affect the CO2 levels in the atmosphere. And they are doing that because the federal government won’t do what it’s supposed to be doing and trying to address the issues of climate change because the politics are so toxic. 


               And you also see it historically, the big push to try to solve the health care crisis for a long, long time right. So, Massachusetts says, well OK, you guys won’t do it and under a Republican Governor Mitt Romney, they embraced the Massachusetts Affordable Care Act back in 2006. It’s probably one of the greatest examples of states as the laboratories of democracy you can find where they create the individual mandate modeled after our conservative principle where everybody ought to have skin in the game. They ought to all join a system together to keep costs down and we’ll provide subsidies for those people who can’t afford to pay. And that was enacted in Massachusetts in 2006 and then it became the model for the Obamacare even though it was very controversial at the time. So, you’ve got states who say we are going to take this on and we’re going to try to run with it and do something with it because the federal government won’t.


Tim:        Another element to this, of course, when you embrace this kind of federalism is that you are sort of acknowledging that there are some states that are far more conservative and some states that are far more progressive and liberal. And they might pursue policies that nationally you’d never get agreement to. I was trying to think of a conservative analog to that and I don’t know if this fits perfectly. But I was thinking about the fact that Arizona and Texas have been very concerned about issues along the border that are extremely complicated. And not just people coming into the country, but also illegal activity on the border in terms of drugs and that kind of thing. So, Texas steps in and starts to do more border security and these kinds of things, which may not be something you’d ever get agreement on in Washington. Washington has been looking at the immigration issue for decades without really doing anything of note on it, anything of substance. When you hear that, you know how do you … is that the way it should work, that conservative states pursuing conservative solutions. And you know even when those diverge often, I mean look the some of the social issues we’re looking at you know. And of course, there’s national law that’s being sorted out by the Supreme Court. So, what are your thoughts on that?


(TM):  23:02


David:     This is why your job is so fascinating and why my writing is so interesting to me because there are so many different examples like that. Even on things that I disagree with. Let’s take for example reproductive choice. States like Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, I’m not sure North Carolina. A number of these states, their legislatures have passed laws in order to create a dilemma for the United States Supreme Court on Roe v Wade. I mean they are essentially innovating an attempt to get conservative positions adopted. And you can see it at other states depending on our Constitutions where actually citizens can go ahead and try to initiate change. A good example of this would be marijuana legislation, which initially began as a citizen initiative. A number of the Western states, where you have citizen initiative written into state constitutions. You can get me going on state constitutions for a long time. But there are a lot of things in state constitutions that are not in the federal constitution that people can exploit. So, the people got marijuana legalized in a number of states and who followed on behind that? A number of legislatures who decided well maybe it was safe for me now to stick my toe in the water on this issue. 


               The philosophical issues are fascinating and that is what should be the proper balance because if you get too much of state’s rights, you run the risk of creating two separate countries sort of within the United States. And I think that’s a big issue we’ve got right now. Is there going to be an overarching set of values or norms that are going to operate our county or are we going to let the red states go their way, the blue states go their way and then Colorado can pick up the pieces later on with their split government and how they are a purple state. So, I don’t mean to make light of it, but it’s an important philosophical issue that’s going to face the country for a while.


Tim:        Yea and of course we all eventually you know the real clashes wind up at the Supreme Court. Just as the, you know, the abortion law in Texas is now before the Supreme Court and to see if it complies or not with federal law. Of course, actually the case, we can’t go into the weeds on this, but this case has to do with this enforcement mechanism in that law. But the bigger question, I think, will become before the court in some form or fashion. If you believe in federalism, it’s for these local voters to decide and, of course, the Texas Legislature is and many of these legislatures are supported heavily by the voters on the Republican side just as there are other legislatures that are supported heavily by the voters on the Democratic side. So, it goes it’s a hard parcel to that.


(TM):  26:14


David:     And all these states are different. I mean I don’t know how many of your listeners realize that Virginia is an incredible outlier when it comes to the selection of judges. Most states elect their judges. We do not. We select our judges from the legislature. Now whether that’s a better system or not is not clear to me. I mean now I’ve been in Virginia long enough that I think we are just so exceptional you know this is the best way to do it. But we’re the outlier. If you look around the country at how much money is now being spent on these judicial elections and how politicized they are even though they are supposed to be nonpartisan, it gets you worried about the ability of people to do their job in a way that just follows the rule of law and not some interpretation based on an ideology. 


Tim:        By the way, you know NCSL is headquartered in Colorado, so I am you know physically located in Colorado and we were one of the they were one of the two states that did enact the retail use of cannabis through the ballot like you said. There are 26 states where citizens can put something on the statewide ballot. Functionally it is less than that. Some of those are nearly impossible to get some on the ballot, but around 20 states if that's the case. I guess this leads me to another question, which is what are you worried about you know in terms of federalism and the state’s role in policymaking and the disconnect between citizen understanding of what happens at the state capital versus what happens in Washington and the lack of engagement there? What troubles you?


David:     Well, there is a lot to worry about. The last chapter of my book is entitled “Reimagining Civic Engagement.”And since I’m partly trying to get state legislators to think about what that really means and what it means to put up political guardrails so that we are not going off the rails. For me, it's not just the question of the philosophical balance, but how you strike the balance in terms of engaging with each other because there are risks with our polarization that we are coming apart at the seams. I don’t want to be too hyperbolic about what happened in January, but it did scare me right down to my toes about what that meant for the future of the country. And there are plenty of people who are hyperbolic on both sides of the political spectrum and it's going to be incumbent upon leaders to basically be able to tell their bases to say hey cool it here. This is a place where you just can’t go any farther than this. And if it means I don’t get re-elected, so be it. But I’m going to speak truth to it as a way to say, Yeah, the country is more important than just playing out your own angst in the political system. And we see this all over the country. And so, I’m worried, I mean philosophically I’m worried at trying to find that balance. We’ve been doing that for 230 years. The difference is that we are losing track of our shared values in the legitimacy of our system, particularly elections. We can’t have that happen. Otherwise, we’ve got big problems. And of course, elections are state issues, too, right. If we underfund our electoral system, if we allow people who have a political agenda one way or another to get ahold of that system, we’re going to be in trouble. 


(TM):  30:01


Tim:        I mean you sort of talked about really two things. There’s civic engagement getting people more aware and involved in what’s happening at the state level. And then there’s this civility question. You know there are so many elements to that including social media and you know how primaries are influenced, how legislators have to respond to sub-constituencies and their constituencies. So, you know what do you think we should be doing on civic engagement?Just getting more people to understand and educate them about the process. Any ideas?  Bold ideas for that?


David:     The first thing they should do is read my book.


Tim:        Okay. That’s a good idea.


David:     You know, I make light of that, but we got to get them off of their focus on Washington, their total focus on Washington, and get them thinking more about their state capitals. You know we have lost a lot of news media in state capitals. The good news is there’s kind of a resurrection of the nonprofit news that is trying to report on state and local issues. That’s a good thing. But we have to get people to try to understand better how their states operate because a lot of the people who end up being in Congress come out of the state legislatures. And if they don’t learn good traits at the state legislative level, it makes it harder for them. 


Tim:        I really recoil at this sort of you know you don’t hear it too often like, oh the legislatures are the minor leagues and then you go to Congress. To me, that’s absurd. Mainly because well, one, I know a fair number of people who have come and been through Congress and they are, of course, no more or less talented than the people in legislatures. But two, it’s just that you can get so much more done in a state than you can in Washington. I really think the action is in the legislatures. 


David:     Yeah, and the state legislatures are interesting because they tend to recognize talent independent of party. You can develop an expertise so long as it’s not too political and you could be the go-to person in the state legislature anytime a bill like that comes. And people value you for that independent of your seniority. If you are elected to Congress, you could be 435 out of 435 you won’t have the ability to affect anything for at least a decade. In the state legislature, you can jump right in and do things.


               I remember when I first came, I was assigned to the Courts of Justice Committee and nobody in the Courts of Justice knew anything about adoption law. A whole rewrite of adoption law had been proposed. I knew something about it. I helped write the law. This was a freshman legislator in the Virginia House of Delegates and there are stories like that all over the country. 


Tim:        What I think is true about that is you get that respect across both parties, right. You can establish that expertise and that’s one path-- I think perhaps the best path--in terms of building reputation as a problem solver and getting something done. What about civility? You did sort of touch on it. I also, you know, can’t, we can’t pretend that we don’t know Charlottesville, of course, just four years ago roughly was the epitome of the breakdown facility in the nation. One flashpoint of that. What can we do about civility? … How would you characterize civility when you were the legislature? Is it better? Worse? And how can we make it better?


(TM):  33.50


David:     Well, there is civility and polarization. They are not necessarily the same things. With civility, it’s how you treat other people and kind of respect their point of view. That doesn’t mean you can’t be partisan and argue very vigorously for your point of view, but the key thing is to have some humility and understand that people come from different places and try to put yourself in their shoes so you can understand where they come from. And then eventually you have to take a vote. … But in the process, you can build these relationships with people that allow you under very stressful conditions to understand their views a lot better and try to reach some accommodation occasionally. 


Tim:        How did you do that? Did you was that sort of part of your thinking when you came in and how did you go about doing that?


David:     One of my goals of being a leader was to be able to raise issues that the minority party really felt was important but do it in a civil way without actually bashing people personally. And I’d like to think that that might have been part of my legacy. And I think people in leadership really have this special responsibility to do that. It’s not easy to do in this hyper partisan environment, but we’ve got to rely on the leaders to do it. If you don’t have civility, the order can break down and it’s very difficult to do anything without force and coercion and that just feeds on itself. You can’t have that in this country and still survive as an effective democracy. 


Tim:        We just have a couple of minutes left. I was thinking about the fact, this wonderful element to you that you come from Thomas Jefferson’s district right. We mentioned him and namechecked him a couple of times here. Are you much of a student of Jefferson? Did you spend time thinking about him and?


David:     You can’t get away from it here. But you know, it’s interesting to kind of really get back into the philosophy of Jefferson. You know life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In some people’s view, the pursuit of happiness was something that people strived for together. It wasn’t something like I’m going to try to make as much money as I can so I can play golf once a week and go on these big vacations. It wasn’t like that. The notion that these founding people had--Madison, Jefferson and the others--was this notion of civic virtue. That you had a responsibility to try to help other people and move the country forward. And that’s what was the basis of the civility and the pursuit of happiness. You would find your happiness in helping other people. And lots of folks don’t look at those words in that way. You know maybe I’ve reinvented it because Jefferson has been taking so much heat because he was a slave holder. He criticized slavery, but he was a slave holder. There is no doubt about that. But you got to look the power of those words that have animated so many people across the world to think about their lives at different ways. You can’t get away from that. 


Tim:        If anyone is listening who has never been to Monticello, you just have to go to get inside of the head of this gentleman who you know was human. That was deeply flawed, of course, on slavery. There is no question about that. And had the thought in so many interesting and creative ways about how he lived his life and, of course, had a big stamp on the system that exists to this day. So, I would like to close with the name of your book exactly so people are putting it into Amazon. They know exactly what to type in. 


David:     “Fighting Political Gridlock.” Put that in and you will find it. 


Tim:        “Fighting Political Gridlock.” And David Toscano TOSCANO and.


David:     Toscano. You know you hold your fingers together like the Italians do.


Tim:        Published by the University of Virginia Press I guess is right. And so aside from that book, what else are you reading or what would you recommend to legislators or legislative staff who just need to know more about this topic or anything? You know what would make them a better part of the legislative institution? What would you suggest or even a TV show or movie? What do you tell people to look into?


David:     I’m reading “A Hundred Years of Solitude” right now. You can only spend so much time doing politics, right. But if you want to go to a place where you really can learn a lot about states, go to the website of the National Conference of State Legislatures. I mean that. I’m not kidding. There is so much there … and way back of all the things that you all have written about. It is just so much to be learned. And again, it's whatever you want to make of it. There are things about health care. There are things about state constitutions. But just keep reading. The biggest joy in my life is I learn something new every day. If I could keep doing that, I will be in good shape. 


Tim:        That’s the secret right there you know. You can keep living if you keep learning, that’s for sure. That’s part of it. Thank you for the gracious promotion of the website. I would agree. We have an extremely robust website with everything and anything about state policy that goes way back. Not back to 1619 House of Burgesses in Virginia. Do you know why they adjourned?  This is one of my favorite trivia questions. You know they adjourned after just five days. Do you know why they adjourned on such a short?


David:     You know you got me there Tim. You got to tell me.


Tim:        There was a malaria outbreak and one of the delegates, actually one of the burgesses, died actually on the third day of the session. So, we’ve come a long way at least. At least you could see by the response by legislators to Covid go into remote sessions. Had they had Zoom back then maybe they would have done that, but they decided it was better to go home and the public safety. Well, we won’t fault you for not knowing that trivia about Virginia, which has such a deep history, but delightful conversation and really, really appreciate your time and I hope people will take advantage of the thoughts you put into the book and how much time you put into it. 




Voice:     And that concludes this episode of our podcast. We encourage you to review and rate NCSL podcasts on Apple podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher or Spotify. We also encourage you to check out our other podcasts:  Our American States and the special series Building Democracy. For the National Conference of State Legislatures, thanks for listening.