About Us

Who We Are

The 50 State Solution was conceived in early 2016 by California Forward (CA Fwd) as a transpartisan effort to build supportive infrastructure--and a platform for sharing information and ideas--among those working on political reform at the state level. While CA Fwd has served as the initiator and early catalyst of the effort, the vision for 50 State Solution is that it becomes an ongoing effort with shared leadership from the political reform community. The goal of the effort is explicitly not to make sure every organization is doing the same work or working on the same issue. Instead, the goal is create a learning community where reformers can share stories of success and failure, find allies, create coalitions and build community.

Within CA Fwd, the work of 50 State Solution is being led by Lenny Mendonca, co-chair of the CA Fwd board of directors, Jim Mayer, president and CEO, Caitlin Maple, project director, and Ed Coghlan, communications director.

Chris Gates, a Senior Fellow with CA Fwd, has played a leadership role in the conception of this effort and the development of the project. Gates previously served as the head of the Sunlight Foundation, Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement and the National Civic League.

CA Fwd has been a key player in helping identify and implement reforms that have made California a leader in governance reform. From citizens' redistricting to open primaries, California has transformed the way it’s governed itself in the last decade. What California learned can help inform state and local reform advocates across the country.

What We Do

The 50 State Solution has three major components, a state-by-state status document, an interactive website, and a planned convening in early 2017.

The state-by-state status update, the "State of the Field" has been built by CA Fwd over the past several months and summarizes how each state registers voters, conducts primaries and general elections, discloses campaign contributions, regulates campaign contributions and conducts redistricting.

We currently have 28 state summaries completed and plan to have all 51 completed by the end of 2016. In addition to summarizing how each state organizes and conducts its electoral process, the State of the Field resource will also track major reform efforts going on in each state. Our hope is that, moving forward, we can make this a living document that is crowdsourced by the reform community at large. There is far too much going on all over the country for one organization to track all activity, but if the field can find a way to take this work on collectively, we can create a resource that will serve the work of all.

The 50 State Solution page serves as the home of the State of the Field resource and serves several other purposes as well. It includes a curated feed of political reform news from all across the country, is the home for a blog where activists and thought leaders can share their ideas and perspectives, provides a shared calendar for events and creates the opportunity for individuals to self-organize around specific issues, efforts or geographic areas.

Finally, the 50 State Solution will hold an initial face-to-face convening in San Francisco early 2017, where leaders of the state-based reform community can come together and talk about how they can keep this effort moving forward and find ways to support and accelerate the innovative experiments that are taking place in every state in the nation. This convening will be co-chaired by Leon Panetta, the former co-chair of CA Fwd and former Secretary of Defense, Director of the CIA, White House Chief of Staff and member of Congress, and Ashley Swearengin, the Mayor of Fresno and leading Republican in the state of California.

While CA Fwd will serve as the host and convener of this event, our hope that this will be the first of a series of annual or semi-annual meetings and that other organizations will step up in the future to convene this field and host this important conversation.

Why This Matters

While institutions in the nation’s capital are as gridlocked as ever, some progress is being made in states to re-engineer political procedures to reduce partisan stalemates and strengthen the connection between elected leaders and voters. Those reforms include independent redistricting and voting process reforms. Similarly, a growing number of diverse political actors are interested in finding ways to reduce campaign spending, which is increasing the influence of a few, distorting political discussions, and disaffecting voters.

As political conditions deteriorate nationally, the success of even modest reforms at the state and community levels becomes even more important. And it is essential to determine how to encourage, accelerate and strengthen them.

These reform efforts can only be considered experiments in “laboratories of democracy,” if there is a deliberate effort to assess and learn from individual efforts to inform and adapt solutions. Or to put it in the context of innovation, these developments can only be scaled in impact if the individuals and organizations involved learn from their failures and the failures of others, and build upon the success of others.

Or imperative is to “softly organize” an effort to distill learnings, replicate promising reforms, build relationships, create collaborative learning and systematically explore the horizons of additional reforms.

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