You're Not Paying Attention to the Right Races

With midterm elections approaching, all eyes are on the U.S. Senate elections, in which a handful of battleground states will decide if Republicans will take control of the Senate. While political talking heads are squawking about the importance of these midterms, the ever-brilliant John Oliver encourages you to look to state legislatures rather than the ineffective U.S. Congress.

In a nearly 20-minute segment of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver that aired Sunday night, the host lays out exactly why state legislators are the ones to watch when it comes to making policies that affect our daily lives. As Oliver points out, even if the GOP takes over the Senate, this Congress is slated to be wholly underwhelming.

This Congress is shaping up to be the least productive in history. Although to be fair, Congress is like jazz — it’s really about the bills it’s not passing. It’s also like jazz in that most people hate it and anyone who says they don’t are lying. And the Senate is likely to remain inactive no matter which party controls it after Tuesday. So why all this attention on the national level where almost nothing is happening, where down on the local level everything is happening?

In short, the people we are sending to U.S. Congress are much less effective at passing bills than the people that we elect to state legislatures. A state body is much more likely to sign legislation into law that will have actual palpable effects on its constituents.

But along the way to that conclusion, Oliver has some pretty hilarious insight on the ignored races. Here are some of the highlights from the bit:

State-level candidates can't be taken seriously

...because of their ridiculous ad campaigns. Such as Tony Cochran, a certified public accountant, a man who grew up on a poultry farm, and a 2010 candidate for Alabama State Senate. Despite his affinity for chickens, he lost in the primary.

State legislatures are circuses

Take the California State Senator who left his mic on while talking about spanking, for example. Just. Wow.

They are getting things done

This session, Congress has passed 185 laws. State legislatures? Over 24,000.

States do cool (and not-so-cool) stuff

Oliver points out that in the "laboratories of democracy" there is often useful, good legislation passed, such as raising the minimum wage or overturning gay marriage. Aaaand then there are things like state abortion restrictions, of which there have been 205 from 2011 to 2013.

There is a shocking lack of oversight

Though most states have ethics commissions, an outside investigation gave a grade of D or F to 28 out of 41 them. Oliver points out that the reality is probably worse, because if you're taking an ethics test as a corrupt legislature, you probably tried to cheat on it.

ALEC is a big deal

You might be ignoring state-level politics, but the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, is not. As Oliver notes, Alec sounds like "the name of a high school lacrosse player who just got baked and wrecked his dad's Saab," but it's not. ALEC is a private, tax-exempt organization that writes model conservative legislation that states can simply drag and drop their specific state name, then file for legislation. Oliver says he will name ALEC at the end-of-show credits as "Associate Producer of Creating Horrifying Things For Us To Talk About."

So. Do you know who your state representatives are?

Images: YouTube/Last Week Tonight with John Oliver