Why States Matter: An Introduction to State Politics

Tricia Simmons 1/1/2014


Authors | Gary Moncrief and Peverill Squire
Paperback; $29.95
Published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc.

Reviewed By Tricia Simmons

“Why States Matter,” by Gary Moncrief and Peverill Squire, not only answers the question of why, but even more important, why we should care. Today, with many Americans’ knowledge of government limited to news clips and sound bites about the breakdown of the federal government, a full understanding of how state governments influence citizens’ daily life, as well as the country’s big picture, is woefully lacking. 

“Why States Matter” provides a solid framework for why states are an essential part of the nation’s federal system. Moncrief and Squire explain in a straightforward fashion why and how states differ, how innovative policies that originated at the state level have rippled through the entire country, and why all this is important. 

 The authors make the case that legislators and governors have more opportunity to innovate and experiment as the federal government shifts more financial responsibility onto them. Moncrief and Squire are confident that more than any other time in our country’s history, states have the capacity and resources not only to handle more responsibility but to handle it better than the federal government does.

States historically have been leaders in pioneering policy in the areas of public education, transportation, administration of justice, economic development, licensing and public health. And over the past two generations, they have continued to make significant policy changes.  In “Why States Matter,” the authors focus on the important role states play in the judicial system (only at the state level are judges elected) and with elections. From the presidential election down, states establish almost all the electoral rules of candidacy and qualifications. They determine who can vote, how they vote (in person, mail-in ballot, etc.), whether they can vote in primaries, and more. 

Moncrief and Squire also compare states’ action to Congress’ inaction, by describing how state legislatures have overcome the stalemate on issues that have plagued Congress. Examples include welfare reform in Wisconsin and health care reform in Massachusetts. In both cases, these states addressed an issue the federal government was mired in, and the state policy eventually became the cornerstone of the federal law.

Although it’s a college textbook, it doesn’t read like it. The book is a great tool for the average citizen wanting to understand state government or the new lawmaker seeking to articulate better exactly why states matter.

Tricia Simmons is a meetings associate in NCSL’s Communications Division.

“Why Do States Matter?”

  • They are the bastion of innovation and respond best to the needs of their citizens.
  • They play an important role in the electoral system at the local, state, national and judicial levels. 
  • State lawmakers are more independent and less reliant on lobbyists and the executive branch for information on policy issues today because of the increased capacity of legislative staffs.
  • State and local governments are the only places ordinary citizens can directly influence government, through referenda, initiatives and recalls.

Additional Resources