State­houses across na­tion see rise in one-party rule

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY KEELY BRAZIL

Di­vided gov­ern­ment still rules in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal af­ter the Nov. 6 vote, but unity is in­creas­ingly the name of the game in An­napo­lis, Topeka, Con­cord, Lit­tle Rock and other cap­i­tal cities.

In a lit­tle-no­ticed foot­note to the elec­tions, votes to fill leg­isla­tive seats pro­duced the high­est num­ber of states with one-party rule in 60 years. Democrats or Republicans now have sole con­trol of the gov­er­nor­ship and both leg­isla­tive cham­bers in 37 state cap­i­tals.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures, which tracks party rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the coun­try’s 50 state gov­ern­ments, Democrats now con­trol all three bases of power — the gov­er­nor­ship and both houses of the state leg­is­la­ture — in 14 states and Republicans in 23, with only 12 states shar­ing power. Ne­braska’s uni­cam­eral leg­is­la­ture is con­sid­ered non­par­ti­san.

Re­gional power bases also are emerg­ing, with Democrats in­creas­ingly dom­i­nat­ing state gov­ern­ments in New Eng­land.

Con­versely, the GOP for the first time since 1872 now will con­trol the Arkansas House and Se­nate. Just 20 years ago, Republicans didn’t have a ma­jor­ity in a sin­gle leg­isla­tive house in the states of the old Con­fed­er­acy; now they will con­trol all 11.

The num­ber of states with di­vided gov­ern­ment is down from 31 just 16 years ago to 12 to­day, prompt­ing spec­u­la­tion about the coun­try’s evolv­ing par­ti­san ge­og­ra­phy.

“I think it is a re­flec­tion of a grow­ing ‘sort­ing-out’ of our pop­u­la­tion — where peo­ple live — and our pol­i­tics,” said Karl Kurtz, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures. “They tend to go all the same way for gover­nor, for leg­is­la­tor and — for that mat­ter — for pres­i­dent.”

Bill Bishop, au­thor of the Republicans scored stun­ning state-level gains in the 2010 wave, which also brought them con­trol of the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. This year, the re­sults were far more mixed.

Democrats re­claimed ma­jori­ties they had lost in 2010 in the New Hamp­shire House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and the Min­nesota House and Se­nate. They also took con­trol of the Colorado House, the Ore­gon House, the Maine House and Se­nate and the New York Se­nate, for a to­tal Repub­li­can State Lead­er­ship Com­mit­tee Pres­i­dent Chris Jankowski said in a state­ment as the fi­nal re­turns were rolling in.

“One thing re­mains clear — Republicans are the dom­i­nant party in the states hold­ing a ma­jor­ity of state leg­is­la­tures, gov­er­nor­ships, lieu­tenant gov­er­nor­ships, sec­re­taries of state and half of the na­tion’s at­tor­neys gen­eral.”

In one bright note for Republicans, the party added one net gov­er­nor­ship to its to­tal, with

Bill Bishop, au­thor of the book “The Big Sort” about the grow­ing po­lar­iza­tion of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, said, “There are more states that

have tipped ei­ther in­creas­ingly Repub­li­can or Demo­cratic over time. Even in close elec­tions you have a ma­jor­ity of vot­ers who live in coun­ties where the elec­tion wasn’t close at all. The world they

see at their doorstep is dif­fer­ent than the rest of the coun­try.”

book “The Big Sort” about the grow­ing po­lar­iza­tion of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, said, “There are more states that have tipped ei­ther in­creas­ingly Repub­li­can or Demo­cratic over time. Even in close elec­tions you have a ma­jor­ity of vot­ers who live in coun­ties where the elec­tion wasn’t close at all. The world they see at their doorstep is dif­fer­ent than the rest of the coun­try.”

With state leg­is­la­tures of­ten seen by the par­ties as the “farm team” for re­cruit­ing na­tional can­di­dates, Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic party of­fi­cials were try­ing to spin the re­sults of last week’s vot­ing in their fa­vor. of eight pick­ups.

In ad­di­tion to the Arkansas sweep, Republicans could point to only one other pickup, but it was a sat­is­fy­ing one: the Wis­con­sin state Se­nate, where Democrats held a brief ma­jor­ity as a re­sult of a num­ber of re­call elec­tions this sum­mer. GOP of­fi­cials said the fi­nal tally was not as bad as it could have been, con­sid­er­ing the de­feat of Mitt Rom­ney and the party’s weak show­ing in U.S. Se­nate races.

“Clearly, [Elec­tion Day] was not what Republicans were hop­ing for, but we re­main en­cour­aged by the suc­cesses seen at the state level across the coun­try,” 30 GOP gov­er­nors na­tion­wide to 19 Democrats. Rhode Is­land’s gover­nor is an in­de­pen­dent.

But Michael Sargeant, Mr. Jankowski’s coun­ter­part at the Demo­cratic Leg­isla­tive Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, noted that in ad­di­tion to flip­ping eight state leg­isla­tive bod­ies, Democrats gained seats in 40 cham­bers over­all and ob­tained veto-proof su­per­ma­jori­ties in Cal­i­for­nia and Illi­nois.

“From Maine to Hawaii, Demo­cratic can­di­dates sim­ply did a bet­ter job talk­ing to vot­ers and ad­dress­ing is­sues that are im­por­tant to work­ing fam­i­lies,” said Mr. Sargeant, not­ing that Republicans had been pro­ject­ing net gains at the state level go­ing into the elec­tion.

One-party dom­i­nance can have di­rect pol­icy con­se­quences. States such as Florida and Penn­syl­va­nia with GOP dom­i­nance of the gov­er­nor­ship and state leg­is­la­ture have been at the fore­front of ef­forts to im­pose more strin­gent voter-ID laws in re­cent years, while states where Democrats dom­i­nate, such as Mary­land and Mas­sachusetts, have led the way on le­gal­iz­ing ho­mo­sex­ual mar­riage.

Party ticket loy­alty at the state level could be a trick­le­down ef­fect from Wash­ing­ton’s in­creas­ingly par­ti­san pol­i­tics, ob­servers say. But gov­ern­ing as a state leg­is­la­tor is very dif­fer­ent from work­ing at the fed­eral level, said Tim Storey, elec­tions an­a­lyst for the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures.

“At a time when D.C. is frozen and in grid­lock, leg­is­la­tors have to get stuff done. They have to bal­ance their bud­get, and to do that they have to com­pro­mise. [Par­ti­san division] may be how vot­ers vote, but it’s not how leg­is­la­tors leg­is­late,” Mr. Storey said.

Mr. Storey pointed to states such as Ore­gon, where the leg­is­la­ture had a pro­duc­tive year de­spite a House where the par­ties were tied and a closely di­vided Se­nate.

“For the most part, these folks are hard-wired to get stuff done,” he said. “What hap­pens to them from the time they leave their state cap­i­tal to the time they get to Wash­ing­ton mys­ti­fies us.”

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