By letting Republicans take control of over two-thirds of state governments over the past ten years Democrats have placed themselves on the outside of the all-important process of drawing congressional districts. This of course has allowed GOP gerrymandering to take place at the federal and state level. The result of that has been that the minority Republican Party controls the government while the majority Democratic Party controls nothing except a few state governments.
If Democrats are successful this year, however, they will be able to reverse many years of losses that have cost them power and given conservatives free rein in areas that should be controlled by Democrats.
Right now it looks like Democrats may be able to flip over 300 legislative seats currently held by Republicans. This would give them control of six to eight state legislative chambers. It may not be enough to re-take all the GOP dominated state governments, but it would be a great start.
There is one group focused on this effort, called the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC). Their sole purpose is to elect Democrats to state legislatures.
“We are not afraid of this fight. We took it on in 2017 and we’ll take it on again in 2018,” DLCC executive director Jessica Post said on Thursday.
Post maintains that Democrats today have a great chance to take over control of the state Senate in New York, Colorado, Maine, Wisconsin, Arizona and New Hampshire, and state Houses in Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan, among other places.
She said that the party has already “flipped” 44 legislative seats in off-year and special elections since the 2016 elections. This includes a victory in Washington state last year that put the state Senate under Democratic control. Democrats now control the entire state government of Washington.
Legislative gains on Tuesday would help Democrats lay the groundwork for even more gains in the 2020 elections. When they take over governorships and state legislatures it helps give them at least partial control over the congressional redistricting process which will occur after the 2020 census.
Democrats were devastated after the midterm elections of 2010, the last census year. This shut them out of the redistricting process in many states and allowed Republican gerrymandering to take place. This in turn gave Republicans control of the U.S. House of Representatives for eight years.
Republican governors and state governments have also engaged in aggressive voter suppression tactics that further solidified their hold on power even though they are the minority party.
GOP governmental policies in the states have also hurt labor unions, which historically have been a big source of campaign cash and “get out the vote” efforts for Democrats.
Tim Waters, political director of the United Steelworkers union, said this about what happened to unions:
“These weren’t your granddaddy’s Republicans. The first thing they did is try to get their boot on our throat, because they see unions as the thing standing between them and their unfettered agenda.”
Republican state governments have routinely passed right-to-work laws, which prohibit unions from requiring dues payment from workers they represent.
The DLCC has long been overlooked but this year they have attracted a great deal of attention. They’ve had a great fundraising cycle also, and have spent a record $35 million on state legislative races.
The Democratic Governors Association also raised a record $121 million this cycle, and put them in a strong position to take back six governorships currently held by Republicans.
On top of that, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) a group founded by former Attorney General Eric Holder, raised nearly $11 million in 2017. Their goal has been to give Democrats more influence in the post-2020 redistricting processes.
NDRC employs a multi-faceted approach that has included lawsuits and ballot initiatives. It is also spending $750,000 on a field organizing effort with For Our Future, a joint venture of organized labor and liberal billionaire Tom Steyer.
There are many other smaller groups working to take back state governments for the Democrats. There is much more work to do, but they have made a great start. If they are successful over the next few election cycles then we stand a much better chance of preserving and protecting democracy in America.
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.