Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mile-high Tsunami: GOP Takes 19 Legislatures, 10 Governorships, 690 Legislative Seats

By Lou Cannon/AOL News ~ Republicans took a stranglehold of the congressional redistricting map this week by winning at least 19 state legislative bodies and 10 governor's races in states now held by Democrats.

Many of the gubernatorial victories had been anticipated, but the legislative outcomes exceeded even the high expectations of GOP strategists.

"This was an election of historic proportions in the states," said Tim Storey, political analyst for the National Conference of State Legislators. "It puts the Republicans in the position of being able to dominate redistricting to a greater degree than anytime since Baker v. Carr was decided in 1962."

That historic Supreme Court decision ruled that legislatures had to be reapportioned on the basis of "one-man, one vote." In most states this ruling was beneficial to Democrats. Nearly 50 years later, the midterm election returns in the states put the GOP back in the driver's seat.

In 2011, all 435 congressional districts in the country will be reapportioned based on the 2010 census.

On Tuesday, Republicans added 690 state legislative seats to bring them close to their high-water mark of 1928.

They won big in states that switched party control and in states where they already held control. In Texas, for instance, where Democrats held an outside hope of winning the state House in which the GOP held a two-vote majority, Republicans gained 24 seats.
Republicans also gained in states where Democrats kept control. Overall, the GOP did better in state legislative races than in any other level of the midterm elections. The most crucial Republican victories came in the heartland states of Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, where the GOP won the state House and maintained control of the state Senate while capturing the governorship, and in Wisconsin, where the GOP won both the Senate and the Assembly and the governorship.

Republicans also won governorships currently held by Democrats in Tennessee, Kansas, Nevada, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.

These victories were coupled with a decision by the voters in California that could be as beneficial to the GOP as any of their legislative wins. By overwhelming margins, California voters approved an initiative (Proposition 20) that takes congressional redistricting away from the Legislature and puts it in the hands of an independent commission and rejected another initiative (Proposition 27) that would have abolished the commission, which presently has the power to redistrict only the Legislature.

"This is very big," said Storey. "It takes away from the Democratic-controlled Legislature the power to draw 53 congressional districts." Present congressional districts in California, drawn by the Legislature in 2001, were gerrymandered to favor Democrats. Because Democrat Jerry Brown won the California governorship, Democrats would have had a free hand in redistricting next year except for passage of Proposition 20.

California became only the seventh state to reapportion districts through an independent commission. One of the others is Hawaii, one of the few states to replace a Republican governor with a Democrat in Tuesday's election. Regionally, the legislative races in the South finally caught up with Dixie's Republican trend in national elections.

As recently as 1990 the GOP did not control a single legislative chamber in the South. Before the election the chambers were evenly divided, 14 apiece, between Democrats and Republicans. Now Republicans control 18 of the chambers, and in places such as Arkansas, where they didn't take over, they came close. Considering the scope of the Republican sweep, Democrats are probably fortunate that three southern states -- Louisiana, Mississippi, and Virginia -- did not hold legislative elections this year.

In another race of likely redistricting significance, Democratic hopes in Florida were dashed when Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate for governor, lost narrowly. Republicans maintained control of both legislative houses in the Sunshine State. Republicans also made a comeback in New England, where the GOP had been an endangered political species. In New Hampshire, where legislative districts are tiny, Republicans gained an astonishing 112 seats. In Maine, the GOP gained 21 seats. Four legislative chambers remain undecided: the Senate in New York and Washington and both houses in Oregon. Of these, the New York Senate is a significant redistricting prize. Democrats won control of the chamber after a long hiatus in 2008 and Republicans have spent heavily to win it back. Since Democrats control the lower House and won the governorship, they would control the redistricting process if they hold onto the Senate.

Just two years ago, many observers grimly pronounced the Republican Party dead – or, at least, on life support. It was a Republican congressman, Oregon's Greg Walden, who said memorably that Republicans were considered "like mold -- not really alive but you couldn't kill us either." Much changed this week in that regard as Republicans regenerated, especially in the Petri dishes of democracy – the states.
Ohio offers particularly fruitful possibilities for redistricting that could help Republican congressional candidates. The Michigan House was an especially satisfying win for the GOP since the Democrats held a 22-seat advantage before the election. Republicans also took control of the House and Senate in Alabama, Maine, and New Hampshire, and of the Senate and General Assembly in North Carolina. They won the House in Colorado and Montana. In Alabama, the GOP will control the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. In Minnesota, the Republicans will have a legislative majority for the first time ever.

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