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Eric Freedman

Eric Freedman

Capitals Count

July 20, 2017

Who’s not excited by state capitals, at least among Domemagazine.com readers?

The June issue of Games magazine published an article titled “Game of State Capitals,” an educational 1952 board game from Parker Brothers. Its board showed a map of the U.S. without Alaska and Hawaii, which hadn’t yet entered the Union.

The object of the game, author Jonathan Schmalzbach wrote, was “to be the first player to place all the state capitals in the proper place” on the board.  So far so good.  He went on: “Likely, the primary purchasers of games such as this were parents who wanted games to be educational.  To a certain generation, knowing state capitals equated with future success in life. What happened in those capitals, or for that matter, how they became capitals, never seemed to be all that important.”

Well, that sounds a bit cynical, Jonathan, but it’s an arguably defensible position.

But here comes Schmalzbach’s clincher: “As you might expect, this game can prove tedious for all ages, whether you are of the generation that knows the capitals or of the video generation that could care less.  Once one has mastered the 48 capitals, this ‘bored’ game has a very short shelf life.”

Really, Jonathan?

In truth, “what happened in those capitals” in 1952 — the year Dwight Eisenhower won the presidency — and is still happening is essential to understanding our country’s political landscape, whether the game’s players paid attention or not.  It’s in the state capitals that we witness innovative strategies to adapt to the realities of a national government under President Donald Trump and the GOP-majority Congress.  That’s true whether a state government is controlled by the Democrats, by the Republicans or is split.

Health care, environment, economic growth, infrastructure, criminal justice, immigration — no matter what happens in Washington, there are practical ramifications in Pierre, Sacramento, Austin, St. Paul, Denver, Fargo and, of course, Lansing.

It’s at the state level that we’ll see the impact of changes in federal Medicaid policy and funding, for example.  Republican and Democratic governors disagree on lots of things but many have sounded off — loudly — on the impact on their low- and middle-income constituents of proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act. In an article called “Liberal governors team up to fight climate change,” the Hill reported on efforts by the governors of California, Washington and New York — “which together account for a fifth of the country’s economy” — to pursue the goals of the Paris climate agreement in the aftermath of Trump’s withdrawal of official U.S. participation.

Meanwhile, we’re also seeing Democratic attorneys general coalesce around litigation that challenges Trump administration policies and regulations, just as we saw Republican attorneys general — our Bill Schuette prominently among them — contesting Obama administration policies and regulations.

In his article about the antiquated “Game of State Capitals,” Schmalzbach ends, “The game starts to get fun again once you reach a certain age where the detritus of what one has learned in life slips away and you find yourself remembering only half of the state capitals–if that many.”

It wouldn’t hurt for more people to learn the capitals — all 50 of them now, with Honolulu and Juneau — and especially what’s happening in them.

Eric Freedman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, is professor of Journalism and director of Capital News Service and the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University.

July 20, 2017 · Filed under Freedman



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