Perhaps even more important than 2010′s Republican sweep in Congress was the corresponding sweep at the state level. Much of the worst Republican mischief took place at the state level, away from the spotlight of Washington.
While Democrats still are locked out of power in the South, they made significant gains outside the region, taking control of eight legislative bodies, while Republicans gained power in four. The power shift should help advance progressive aims across the country.
Marriage Votes Help Dems in Minnesota, Maine
The biggest prizes for Democrats were in Maine and Minnesota, where turnout boosted by votes on same-sex marriage helped Democrats gain flip control of both Houses and Senates.
In Maine, Democrats gained seven seats in the 35-member Senate, and took 17 seats in the 150-member House. The wins reverse gains made by Republicans two years ago, when Republicans gained control of the legislature thanks to the Republican wave and the coat-tails of Gov. Paul LePage.
Democrats are gleeful at the chance to stand up to LePage, who gained national notoriety for removing artwork from the Maine Department of Labor which depicted labor struggles.
Meanwhile, in Minnesota, the victory by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party gave Minnesota a House, Senate, and Governor from the same party for the first time since 1991. Pending a recount, DFLers gained either 12 or 13 seats in the 134-member House, and nine seats in the 67-member Senate.
The DFL benefited from two huge mistakes by the Minnesota Republican Party. The first was a scandal involving Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, who was revealed to have been having an affair with Michael Brodkorb, the pugnacious Senate Republican Caucus Communications Director.
Brodkorb was fired, and subsequently sued the state for sex discrimination; Koch was forced to step down as Senate leader. Coming just a year after Republicans gained control of the Senate for the first time in over 30 years, the unforced error was a huge blow.
The other mistake came when Republican legislators put an anti-same sex marriage constitutional amendment on the ballot. While Republicans and some pundits thought the contentious issue would help turn-out among conservative voters, the fight instead energized progressives and young voters, who turned out in droves to beat back the amendment, and helped deliver the state house to the DFL.Dems Take Over in New York, Colorado, Oregon
Democrats also gained full control of New York’s government, taking control of the Senate; they already controlled the State Assembly. They also added control of Colorado’s House to their control of the state’s Senate, and took control of the Oregon House of Representatives, which had been evenly divided. Democrats also gained ground in New Hampshire, taking control of the state’s House of Representatives, and falling just short of control in the Senate.
While the takeover of these states does not guarantee smooth government, it does help. Minnesota likely will not face a repeat of 2011, when the state’s government shut down over a budget impasse between Gov. Mark Dayton and the GOP-controlled legislature. Democrats’ gains in Maine and New Hampshire are just as important, allowing them to force concessions from conservative lawmakers.
GOP Gains in Red States
The news was not all good for Democrats. In Arkansas, Republicans gained control of the state legislature in Arkansas, flipping both the House and Senate to Republican control. Republicans also gained control of the Alaska Senate, and — much to the chagrin of Democrats — retook control of the Wisconsin Senate, giving Republicans full control of all three states.
Overall, the shift toward unified government is part of a trend. Generally speaking, legislatures in Red States are under Republican control, and legislatures in Blue States are run by Democrats.
Still, some trends can be viewed even in the states where control did not change. Throughout the southwest, Democrats gained seats. Democrats made gains in both Arizona houses, closing the split in the Senate from 21-9 to 17-13. In California, Democrats gained a supermajority in both houses of the legislature. Perhaps the most intriguing, however, was Texas. Democrats remain woefully outnumbered in the Lone Star State, and they are still nowhere near control in either body — but in the state’s 150-member House, Democrats gained 7 seats this year. That still leaves them at a 95-55 disadvantage, to be sure — but it’s an early sign of increasing Democratic strength in the state.
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