You are here

Fighting Political Gridlock

How States Shape Our Nation and Our Lives
David J. Toscano. Foreword by Senator Mark R. Warner

BUY Ebook · 298 pp. · ISBN 9780813946474 · $29.95 · Sep 2021
BUY Cloth · 298 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813946467 · $29.95 · Sep 2021

In this profoundly polarized era, the nation has been transfixed on the politics of Washington and its seemingly impenetrable gridlock. Many of the decisions that truly affect people’s lives, however, are being made not on the federal level but in the states. Faced with Washington’s political standoff, state governments are taking action on numerous vital issues, often impacting citizens and their communities far more than the decision makers in D.C. Despite this, few Americans really understand their state governments or the issues they address. In Fighting Political Gridlock, David Toscano reveals how the states are working around the impasse in Washington and how their work is increasingly shaping society.

Long a central figure in one of the most important legislative bodies in the nation, the Virginia House of Delegates, Toscano brings a unique expertise to this urgent and timely discussion. Beginning with an analysis of state responses to COVID-19, including the processes and consequences of declaring states of emergency, he goes on to detail how various states are attacking issues in different ways–from education and voting to criminal justice and climate change–and provides a broad overview of how state actions affect our system of federalism. Toscano concludes with a call to action and civic engagement, including suggestions for how citizens and public officials can revitalize American democracy.


If the last few years have taught us anything, it's that state government has more to say about how votes are counted, how pandemics are addressed, how students are educated, and how guns and maternal health are regulated than any other entity. Yet we mostly ignore these laboratories of democracy—and the myriad ways in which they can be engines for civic engagement and public welfare. David Toscano brings his keen eye for state and local politics and his lawyerly analytic tools to this timely new look at how powerful states can fill in the broken spaces of current American democracy—and also work to tear it apart, if we decline to pay attention.

Dahlia Lithwick · Slate

There is a relationship between how well we govern ourselves and how much we are capable of trusting one another. David Toscano shows us not only how states shape the life of our nation, but why state actions are the key to saving our democracy.  With the insights that come from 14 years of elected public service, David Toscano restores our faith in tomorrow by laying how we can make our states deliver better results today.

Martin O’Malley, Former Governor of Maryland

Unity of purpose is very difficult to achieve in a gridlocked era of bitter disagreement between liberals and conservatives. In a timely book, David Toscano has focused us on the path forward in this divided, polarized country—the states, where within a federal framework the laboratories of democracy can experiment with ideas and solutions. He shows us how the states can tackle a wide range of problems with perhaps more success than one-size-fits-all proposals from Washington, D.C.

Larry Sabato, Director of the Center for Politics

As a state legislator from ‘the other Washington,’ I’ve seen time and again how mine and other states have led the way on moving good policy forward. Whether it’s ending discrimination, expanding health care access, or acting on climate, when states lead on big issues we bring the nation with us.

Laurie Jinkins, Washington State Speaker of the House

To truly understand our political process and how change occurs, one must understand the role and power of state legislatures. Toscano takes us through the pressing issues of our time and how we can see, time and time again, that states are the core of our political future.

Daniel Squadron, former New York State Senator

It’s no surprise that a man who spent 14 years representing Charlottesville in Richmond thinks state government is important, but in his new book, Fighting Political Gridlock: How States Shape Our Nation and Our Lives, David Toscano makes a compelling case.


Fighting Political Gridlock... isn’t a memoir. You won’t find Toscano waxing poetic about the halls of the state capitol or spilling juicy secrets about his former co-workers. Nor is it a polemic, in which he argues on behalf of the issues he spent so long fighting for in the legislature. Fighting Political Gridlock is more of a civics lesson than anything, an effort "to show why states matter in this great nation of ours," he writes in the acknowledgments.

Cville Weekly

About the Author(s): 

David J. Toscano is a veteran of twenty-five years of public service. He served as a city councilor and as Mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia, and was then elected to the seat once held by Thomas Jefferson in the Virginia House of Delegates. He served in that body for fourteen years, including a seven-year stint as Democratic Leader. Since his retirement from the General Assembly in 2020, he has returned to practicing law in Charlottesville.

Interested in this topic?
Stay updated with our newsletters:

Related Books