GOP hangs on to historic gains in state legislatures
While official Washington analyzes every tweet and meeting of President-elect Donald Trump, little attention is paid to the political dynamics of state government. This is unfortunate, since state and local governments often have a more direct impact on the lives of their citizens.
Fortunately, Ballotpedia.org covers what so many political observers ignore and has become an invaluable resource. Their data provides an interesting perspective on Election 2016 that is lost in the obsession over how the Clinton campaign managed to lose Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
During President Obama’s time in office, Republicans made historic gains in state legislative races. But, many observers expected that the democrats would regain some of their lost ground in 2016. That’s not what happened. Instead, the two parties fought to what can best be described as a draw allowing the GOP to hold its highest level of political power since the 1920s.
Each party gained new majorities in 3 legislative bodies. Democrats won a new majority in the Nevada State Senate, the Nevada State Assembly and the New Mexico House of Representatives. Republicans did the same in the Iowa State Senate, the Kentucky House of Representatives and the Minnesota State Senate.
Two legislative bodies are now tied. The Connecticut State Senate is now split between the parties as the GOP picked up three seats. In Delaware, there is a tie due to the fact that one Democratic State Senator was elected Lt. Governor. Control of the Delaware Senate will be determined by a special election in a competitive district during 2017.
There are also two unique situations. In the Washington State Senate, the Democrats now have a one-seat advantage. However, the GOP has effective control since one democratic senator caucuses with the republicans. In Alaska, a similar situation is found in reverse. The Republicans have the majority in the state House of Representatives, but a Democrat was elected speaker.
Overall, the Republicans now control 37 state senates while the democrats have 13. The GOP has a 31-18 advantage in state houses. Those figures show a slight gain for the GOP among Senate bodies and a slight gain for the democrats among the lower bodies of the legislature.
As for individuals, there are now 4,201 republican state legislators and 3,145 democrats. Those figures reflect a gain of 40 GOP officeholders.
This split decision at the state legislative level came as the Republicans won new governorships but lost one. The Republicans now have 33 governors while the democrats have 16. The Governor of Alaska is an Independent.
While the Democrats didn’t lose more ground in 2016, the Obama era was extremely damaging to the president’s party. Overall, the democrats lost 958 legislative seats. By way of comparison, Republicans lost 324 seats during the presidency of George W. Bush and Democrats lost 524 during Bill Clinton’s time in office. Ronald Reagan was the only post-war president to see his party gain ground in the state legislatures. During his Administration, the GOP picked up six seats.
Since all recent presidents except Reagan have seen their party lose ground, this is probably a high-water mark for the GOP. So, in the coming election cycles, it will be interesting to see just how much lost ground the Democrats are able to win back.