Red States Rising

The news has been full of talk about the smashing Republican victories at the federal level Tuesday, taking control of the House with the largest gain since 1948 and capturing at least six Senate seats. But I think one of the great under-reported stories of the election is the absolutely massive gains made by Republicans in both state legislatures and governorships. Just look at this map:

Follow the link for a larger, interactive version courtesy of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Like I said yesterday with regard to the House races, this is nothing short of a bloodbath for the Democrats, with Republicans winning an all-time high in state legislative seats. An article at Stateline describes the statehouse carnage:

Republicans won smashing victories in state legislatures yesterday, capturing an outright majority of the nation’s legislative seats and the largest majority for the party since 1928.

As of noon Eastern Time (11/3/10 -PF), Republicans had taken about 18 legislative chambers from Democrats, with more statehouses hanging in the balance. Democrats hadn’t picked up a single chamber from Republicans. So Republicans will have the upper hand when it comes to shaping state policy in the coming years. They’ll also be in charge in most states as policymakers redraw legislative and congressional district lines next year.

In historical terms, the most dramatic wins for the Republicans were in the South. As recently as 20 years ago, long after the region had begun voting Republican in presidential elections, Democrats held every Southern legislative chamber. After last night, Republicans will control a majority of the region’s legislative chambers for the first time since Reconstruction.

The GOP took both the North Carolina Senate and North Carolina House from the Democrats, winning the Senate for the first time since 1870. The party won both houses of the Alabama Legislature from the Democrats, which will also give the Republicans control there for the first time since Reconstruction. In Oklahoma, Republicans retained their control of the Legislature, which, coupled with their win in the governor’s race, will give the GOP complete control of state government for the first time ever. In Tennessee the story was similar: Republicans won the governorship and solidified their control of the Legislature, putting them fully in charge of the state for the first time since Reconstruction.

Check out the article behind the link for a region by region description.

Gubernatorial races were a similar story:

The fortunes of Republicans in state government improved dramatically Tuesday night, as the Grand Old Party’s nominees for governor reclaimed vast swaths of territory that Democrats staked out for the last decade. The most striking gains came in the West and the industrial Midwest. In several contests, Republican women and minorities made history by winning in their states.

With 29 governorships under their control and several more still up for grabs, Republicans appeared close to their goal of winning the top office in 30 states. The Republican dominance came even as they lost small states such as Connecticut, Rhode Island and Hawaii, along with population-rich California.


Republican victories included ousting the governors in Ohio and Iowa; wresting away open seats currently held by Democrats in Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Wyoming; and successfully defending Republican seats in Arizona, South Carolina, Florida and Texas.

One obvious impact this will have is on redistricting, as touched on in the first article quoted, and one can expect the legislatures controlled by the Republicans -especially when the governor is also a Republican- to draw lines favorable to their own party. Yes, I’ve said before that I’m opposed to gerrymandering, but also that we might as well take advantage of the rules while they’re in place.

Aside from redistricting, though, this sea change in state control may have several other significant effects:

First, there’s the likelihood of better governance. While I don’t have hard data, I suspect many of these new legislators and governors arose from the Tea Party or won with Tea Party support, which means a committment to limited government, low taxes, and sound fiscal practices as a foundation for prosperity. I expect we’ll see several states with bloated governments start to seriously pare them back. Justice Brandeis once said that the states are the laboratories of democracy; if, as I expect, state economies fare well as a result of this pruning, that will put pressure on other bloated states (Hi, California and New York!) and the federal government to do the same.

Also, control of legislatures and governorships will act as a training ground for promising politicians to move up to the federal level, much like a farm league in baseball. Particularly for legislators, being in the majority will provide experience in bearing the real responsibilities of governance, instead of just sitting in the minority and hectoring the other side. This will be invaluable in training the next generation of federal leaders.

Finally, it’s possible that, with a majority of states under the control of a conservative party wary of federal intrusion, we may see more demands for Washington to respect the 10th amendment:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

I’m not expecting a revolutionary change, of course, but more likely incremental efforts that slow federal expansion and start to roll it back; we can expect that the federal bureaucracy, the Democrats, and their progressive allies to resist this, devoted as they are to one-size-fits-all statism. I do believe we’ll see more states join the anti-Obamacare lawsuits that, at last count, had 18-20 states joined in one suit, with Virginia pursuing its own. As someone who firmly believes that a decentralized federalism is the best way to govern a nation as vast and diverse as the United States, I’d call this a good thing.

So, while I’m sorry (so sorry) that California bucked the national trend, I’m more than ever convinced that November 2nd, 2010, was not just a good day, but a great day for Republicans, conservatives, and the nation.

LINKS: More from Moe Lane.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

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