Democrats expect to take back control of the U.S. House of Representatives this year, and they may find that they also are able to take back control of several important state legislatures.
With Donald Trump’s historic unpopularity, and favorable demographic shifts, Democrats are finding that they have a great opportunity to win back hundreds of state legislative seats across the country. During the Obama years Democrats had been decimated in midterm elections in 2010 and 2014, losing nearly 1,000 state legislative seats country-wide.
— Resistance Video (@ResistanceV) October 9, 2018
Current favorable conditions give the Democratic Party a chance to regain some control over the congressional redistricting process which will take place after the 2020 Census.
Today, the GOP holds 67 of 99 legislative chambers across the country, and holds 1,000 more seats than Democrats, 4,134 to 3,134. On November 6th, voters will elect state legislators to fill 6,073 seats in 87 state legislative chambers.
Democrats have more than a dozen Republican-held state legislative chambers within their cross-hairs this year. One of those is in Minnesota, where Republicans hold slim majorities in both the state House and the state Senate.
“The fire’s in the belly of Democrats,” said Matt Klein, a Democratic state senator, as he hopes — and expects — that Democrats will retake control in his state.
Democrats are also very close to reclaiming control of state Senates in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Wisconsin. In Michigan and New Hampshire they are very close to winning control of the house of representatives also.
“There is more Democratic enthusiasm than I have seen in the last few cycles. That’s a reality I can’t ignore,” said Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of the Wisconsin state Assembly. “Democrats for the first time became frustrated with what’s happening in Washington.”
Though state legislators are usually occupied with local issues like infrastructure, education and jobs, they can frequently be caught up in national political issues over which they have no control.
“It’s really hard to break through. There’s so much news at the federal level that anything you try to put out there is eclipsed,” said Scott Fitzgerald, the Republican president of the Wisconsin Senate.
Indications of a Democratic wave in 2018 have been shown in special elections in several states, from Wisconsin to New Hampshire, Florida to Missouri. Democrats have won control of ten seats formerly held by Republicans in special elections.
Polls have shown that in state governor’s races many Democrats are ahead and are likely to win back several governorships from Republicans this year.
State legislatures have great influence over the redistricting process which occurs every ten years. Most legislators elected this year will still be in office when the next redistricting takes place after the 2020 census.
The redistricting process after the 2010 census was used by Republicans to gerrymander their way to majorities in Congress and in many state legislatures. Democrats hope that this year they will receive enough votes to overcome even the most unfavorable gerrymandered district boundaries.
“They gerrymandered the heck out of these districts, but we think we have a shot at winning back these seats,” said Michigan Senate Democratic leader Jim Ananich.
He may be right, but if there is to be a Democratic Blue Wave it will have to overcome a massive sea wall built by GOP gerrymandering. Thanks to Donald Trump, this is a goal that is within reach this year, and it may pay dividends for many years to come.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.