The State Legislative Landslide
There are ninety-eight partisan state legislative chambers in our nation. (Nebraska has a unicameral and nonpartisan legislature.) Not all state legislative chambers had elections this November, but of the seventy-seven state legislative chambers that did have elections, Republicans gained seats in sixty-one, while losing seats in only ten.
This translated into shifting control of ten legislative chambers from Democrat to Republican: the State Senate in Washington, Colorado, Nevada, Maine, and New York and the State House of Representatives in New Mexico, Nevada, Minnesota, West Virginia, and New Hampshire. Republican power in state legislatures is at the highest point in a century, both in the number of chambers controlled and also in the number of Republicans in state legislature – important facts that tend to be submerged in higher profile races.
Looking at particular regions, the impact of these elections takes new meaning. In the five-state “Great Lakes” region of Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana, Republicans made gains in state legislative chambers of each state and did not lose seats in any of the ten chambers. In the five legislative chambers in neighboring Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri that faced voters this midterm, Republicans made gains in all five.
In the Rocky Mountain purple states of Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico, Republicans gained the Colorado Senate, the New Mexico House, the Nevada Senate, and the Nevada House without losing seats in any of the state legislative chambers. Those gains matter. Governor Martinez will have one house of the New Mexico legislature to help her push her conservative agenda; Governor Sandoval in Nevada goes from working with two Democrat houses of the legislature to a Republican legislature; and Colorado’s Democrat governor, who won a close race, now has to work with a Republican Colorado House.
In the South, in red states thought to be trending purple – Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia – Republicans gained seats in three legislative chambers and lost a seat in one, and the other two were unchanged. Despite the hopes Democrats have expressed of becoming competitive in the South, Republicans now control virtually every state legislative chamber there. Eight of those states had state legislative elections, and in those sixteen legislative chambers, Republicans gained seats in twelve chambers and lost seats in one.
The long-term impact of Republican power in the South and Rocky Mountain areas is enhanced by the fact that these are also the two fastest-growing areas of the country. These are the states that will have more congressmen after the next census, and Republican legislatures will be drawing the new congressional districts.
But even in the Democrat stronghold of the Northeast, Republicans did well. Republican governor Corbett of Pennsylvania lost re-election, but Republicans increased their existing majorities in both houses of the Pennsylvania legislature. Republicans came close to winning the governor’s race in New Hampshire, the only purple state in New England, but Republicans actually did capture the New Hampshire lower legislative chamber and increased the existing majority in the upper chamber.
Republicans now, for the first time in a while, have the power to stop Democrats in states like New York (which now has a Republican Senate) and Maryland, where the unexpected victory of Republican Larry Hogan in the gubernatorial race was complemented by the gain of eight seats in the Maryland House, enough to sustain a veto by Hogan. Republican gains in the Illinois Senate mean that incoming Republican Governor Rauner will now have both houses able to sustain his veto. Governor Dayton will have to work with a Republican Minnesota House.
Perhaps the most important consequence will be in those states where Republicans in state government have shown real gumption. Scott Walker, of course, tops the list. Increased Republican majorities in both houses of his legislature, along with his own re-election, open the door for even more revolutionary reforms. Re-elected Republican governors in Michigan, Ohio, and Florida have bigger Republican legislative majorities, which ought to embolden these governors to push hard reforms of public employee unions, educational systems, and voter integrity, as well as tort reform and other vital issues.
There will doubtless be more “gridlock” in Washington. Obama is just too arrogant and ideological for anything else. But the chance for dramatic change – something to show America in 2016 – is in Republican hands in many states now. Surely the only counsel now to these Republicans is “be bold.”