Via Seth Masket, who is reporting from a State Politics and Policy Conference, there’s a new paper out on where state policymakers tend to go to “borrow” ideas. As a former aide to three Georgia governors with some responsibility for policy formulation, this interested me, because there’s no pat answer. I recall that in 1993-94, when Zell Miller was still Bill Clinton’s best friend, those of us on Miller’s staff looking into policy areas invariably had to check out what Arkansas was doing (a testament to how Clinton had changed his state’s Dogpatch reputation).

Anyway, the paper in question (by three political scientists) begins with the hypothesis that states tend to borrow from geographically contiguous jurisdictions. (That’s not a hypothesis I would have made, but then you need to appreciate the kind of neighborhood Georgia’s in). But it turned out that’s not as common an occurrence as the authors apparently thought it would be. Nor were there any “national model” states everyone copies, either.

In the conclusion, the authors lay out some future questions they’d like to answer about state “policy diffusion:”

Do states look to contiguous states or just geographically proximate states? Do they look to innovative states or to states that have similar demographics? Do they rely on ideological similarity when deciding which states to follow?

Ding, ding, ding, third guess is a winner, at least in these days of ideologically-driven Republican governor and legislatures. But even that answer may over-complicate the picture. Many states have their own home-grown conservative think tanks, seeded with national right-wing money. And when all else fails, there is a national organization that specializes in getting together state policymakers with the corporate lobbyists who best know how to make their own lives easy. Hint to political scientists: it’s name begins A-L-E….

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.