Historic: GOP Picks Up 19 Legislative Chambers

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BY JON MILTIMORE — Republicans swept to historic gains in state governments across the country Tuesday night, fueled by an anti-tax message and a promise to control government spending.

In a seismic political shift, the GOP is on track to pick up 680 state seats, the most it has held since 1928, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

While the gubernatorial picture is not yet clear, Republicans picked up three gubernatorial seats and stand poised to grab several more, pending recounts.
While it’s not unusual for the party holding the White House to lose congressional seats, the extent of the damage to Democrats in state elections went well beyond most projections.
“The sheer magnitude of the Republican victory was the big surprise,” said Tim Storey, an elections analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In an election in which voters identified the economy as their primary concern, Republicans succeeded in rallying voters behind a simple economic message of less government spending, while Democrats appeared to suffer a hangover from the Party’s 2008 successes.
Efforts by President Barack Obama and other Democratic Party leaders to blunt the mid-term losses fell short, as the GOP reached uncharted waters in many states.
The traditionally blue state of Minnesota, for example, was not identified as a competitive state, yet Republicans overcame seat disadvantages widely considered insurmountable.
Prior to Tuesday, the state’s Democratic-Farm-Labor Party held 46 of the state’s 67 senate seats and 87 of the 134 house seats, but unexpected gains — particularly in suburban districts — propelled the GOP to victory in both chambers.
Republicans picked up 26 house seats and 15 senate seats (barring recounts), making it the first time in history the Minnesota GOP has controlled the legislature, according to NCSL.
Chatting with Minneapolis Democratic voters Tuesday, it was clear that election enthusiasm was low.
David Lickness, a self-described lifelong Democrat from Northern Minneapolis, said he voted a straight Democratic ticket but was disappointed with his options.
“For me, it was about picking the lesser of two evils,” said the 56-year-old Lickness, who was recently laid off. “Taxes in Minnesota are too bloody high.”
Sia Amiralaii, a wildlife biologist and self-described liberal, said he voted for most of the Democratic candidates because of their positions on the environment, but questioned some of their tax proposals.
“To be honest, I wasn’t excited about too many candidates, especially the ones running for Governor,” Amiralaii said.
Though the state’s Governor’s race remains too-close-to-call, Democrat Mark Dayton holds a slim lead over Republican Tom Emmer.
Justin Mulay, 18, a Minneapolis resident voting in his first election, said he cast his ballot for Dayton because he didn’t believe Independent Tom Horner could win.
“Mainly I really didn’t want to see Emmer get in,” said Mulay, who is enrolling next semester at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
Conversely, Republicans reported record levels of enthusiasm prior to Tuesday, which helped flip control of state legislatures in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Maine, New Hampshire and Alabama.
It’s the first time since Reconstruction Alabama Republicans have controlled the legislature, and the first time since 1870 the GOP has held the North Carolina Senate, according to the NCSL.
Republicans now hold 18 of 28 legislative in the South.
“In 1990 they didn’t hold one,” said Storey, noting that for the first time since Reconstruction the GOP holds a majority of legislative seats in the former Democratic stronghold.
In gubernatorial races, the Midwest proved a killing ground for Democrats, as many analysts had predicted it would.
Republicans won open Democratic seats in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan and ousted Democrat incumbents in Iowa and Ohio.
In too-close-to-call races, Republican candidates lead in Oregon, Maine, Illinois, Connecticut and the hotly contested Florida, which accounted for $93 million of the $850 gubernatorial candidates spent on elections, second only to California.
Democrats currently lead in Vermont, in addition to Minnesota. Democrats also were able to pick-up the California’s Governor’s mansion in a hard fought battle that accounted for nearly one-quarter of the spending by gubernatorial candidates.
Political analysts say the stakes on state elections this year were higher than normal in because lawmakers will begin redistricting legislative and congressional lines early next year. Parties in control will have a clear advantage, according to analysts.
While the anti-tax mood helped sweep Republicans into power in many states, tax measures on the ballot were somewhat of a mixed bag.
While voters in Washington defeated a pair of tax initiatives — an excise tax on candy and sugary drinks passed by the legislature earlier in the year and a proposed income tax on individuals making more than $200,000 — voters in Massachusetts succeeded in thwarting a proposal that would have reduced the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent, which would have cost the state an estimated $2.5 billion in revenue.
While Georgia and California rejected proposed fees on motor vehicles, voters passed the majority of bond proposals on the ballot which totaled $1.9 billion, the only exceptions being Washington, which nixed a $505 million initiative designed to improve energy efficiency in schools, and New Mexico, which defeated by about 2,500 votes a $7.8 million measure that would have built a senior citizen facility.
“There was certainly a right-leaning tide in state elections; you couldn’t say that about ballot questions,” said Jon Shure, Deputy Director of the State Fiscal Project at the Center on Budget Policy Priorities.
For example, voters in Colorado defeated a measure that would have prevented the state from issuing debt of any kind, something that would have constricted the state’s finances. Voters in Washington, however, passed laws that will require a two-thirds majority before any tax increase.
While Oklahoma and Arizona passed initiatives attempting to block the federal health care overhaul passed earlier this year, voters in Colorado narrowly defeated a similar measure.
Oklahoma voters also defeated a measure that would have cost $900 million in annual spending by requiring public education to be funded at the per-pupil average of neighboring states. The measure failed to gain 20 percent of the vote despite $1.84 million in campaign spending by the National Education Association.
Florida voters, however, defeated a proposal that would have allowed lawmakers to increase class-size caps, which would have saved an estimated $350 million.
“The main theme seemed to be that each state is different,” Shure said. “It’s difficult to draw a national theme from the ballot proposals we saw.”
Officials at Ballotpedia said that while the majority of proposals to limit government spending failed, voters in five states approved measures to increase state “rainy day funds.”
“It appears that voters favor saving funds as a safeguard against dismal economic times,” said Bailey Ludlam, project director at Ballotpedia.
As states face budget gaps estimated at more than $140 billion next year and lawmakers attempt to address “structural” obligations the Government Accountability Office estimates at $10 trillion, it’s fair to say Republican lawmakers will have their work cut out for them, analysts say.
“No matter which party is in change, it doesn’t change the fact that state governments face a crisis,” Shure said. “Campaign rhetoric is over; now it’s time to govern.”
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