This Week in Statehouse Action: You’re Still the One edition
Ten years, man…
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… Grosse Pointe Blank references aside, yes, 10 years is a long damn time.
And as of the past Monday, that’s how long I’ve been writing this missive.
Pretty wild, right?
For a while, This Week in Statehouse Action lived only on email, so I had to dig back through my sent folder to find the edition that started it all.
I posted that old-ass newsletter here on 10/10/22, if you’re interested in reading it, but obviously everything there is … well, “out of date” doesn’t even begin to describe it.
And yet, they’re called “election cycles” for a reason–many things in politics have a way of coming back ‘round again.
That year’s election cycle–2012–was, like this current one, the first after a round of redistricting.
And that round of redistricting–which, like this one, was mostly GOP-controlled–was extremely not good for Democrats.
Downballot Dems were still reeling from the epic statehouse losses of 2010, but even with a whole slew of Republican-drawn districts to run in, Democrats managed to actually win back majorities in eight legislative chambers they’d lost to Republican control that previous cycle:
New Hampshire House
New York Senate*
*New York Senate gets an asterisk because, even though voters gave Democrats the majority in the chamber in that election, a small group of power-hungry jackhole Democrats chose to caucus with Republicans, effectively keeping the GOP in control. It took Dems six years to finally run those traitors out in primaries.
Sounds like good news for this cycle, yeah? Since 2022 is also the election after a round of redistricting?
It’s not that simple, though.
One of the (many) reasons 2010 went so badly for downballot Democrats (the GOP flipped 24 legislative chambers) was the fact that it was a midterm election year.
And one of the reasons 2012 went a bit better for Dems at the statehouse level was that it was a presidential election year.
That means the national party and the presidential campaign invested real resources in most of those flipped states.
Ten years later, however, the first elections after redistricting are … midterms.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean Democrats are destined to lose chambers this year!
In fact, thanks in part to real redistricting reforms in some states (Michigan is high on the list), Democrats could potentially flip some chambers this year.
But Democrats are playing defense in some states, too.
With less than a month to go before Election Day, it’s time to take a comprehensive look at the chambers that could flip this year.
We’ll start with where Dems are playing offense:
Arizona House, Senate
Top-ticket races in Arizona are taking up most of the oxygen here (and as important as downballot contests are, this is totally understandable, since Republican election deniers are running for pretty much every statewide office), but given how narrow the GOP’s grip is on the legislative majority in both chambers, this could be a real opportunity for Democrats.
Team blue needs to flip just two seats (of 60) in the state House to take majority control there, and flipping just one seat in the state Senate would break the Republican majority and tie the chamber 15-15.
Fun fact! In most states, the lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate, often tasked with breaking ties. Arizona, however, doesn’t have a lieutenant governor, so a tied Senate would be … an adventure.
Funner fact! Voters in Arizona have the opportunity to create the office of lieutenant governor via ballot measure on Nov. 8!
If Proposition 131 passes, Arizona will elect its first LG in 2026.
As written, however, this constitutional amendment just inserts the LG into the line of succession above secretary of state; the legislature itself has the power to decide what additional duties and responsibilities fall under the LG’s purview.
Effectively, this means that a GOP-controlled legislature could pass or repeal statutes that put the LG in charge of the Senate–or anything else–pretty much at will (as long as they have a GOP governor).
Michigan House, Senate
For the first time in over a decade, Democrats have a fair shot at flipping at least one—possibly even both!—chambers of the GOP-controlled Michigan legislature (thanks entirely to a successful citizen-initiated ballot measure in 2018 that created an independent redistricting commission).
Democrats need to flip just two House seats (of 110) to take control of that chamber, and flipping four state Senate seats (of 38) would give Dems a majority there.
In addition to being one of the rare states without GOP-gerrymandered maps, the political landscape in Michigan is colored by an intense statewide focus on another ballot measure: Proposal 3, which would enshrine reproductive freedom in the state constitution.
But Prop 3 isn’t the only game in town in terms of Wolverine State ballot measures.
Also worth watching? Proposal 2, also referred to as the “Promote the Vote” amendment.
Passing Prop 2 would add a bunch of key voting protections to the state constitution, including
Expanding access to early voting, absentee ballots, and ballot drop boxes;
Providing that election audits be conducted in public;
Requiring election results to be certified based on votes cast;
Prohibiting laws, regulations, and practices that interfere with a person’s right to vote; and
Allowing voters to sign an affidavit to attest to their identity when they don't have a photo ID.
These factors, in addition to three strong Democratic incumbents running for reelection statewide at the top of the ballot without the distraction of, say, a U.S. Senate race, have created a unique opportunity here for team blue this year.
If Democrats can hold on to the governorship and the state House in the North Star State, they have a chance to pick up a trifecta here by flipping the state Senate.
Netting two state Senate seats (out of 67) would give Democrats control of that chamber and a shot at full control of state government.
New Hampshire House, Senate
With all 400 seats on the ballot every two years, predicting majority control of the large and often chaotic state House is a bit of a crapshoot, though parties’ success here generally follows the mood of the statewide electorate.
Democrats need to net 12 seats to tie the chamber, 13 to win the majority.
In the 24-seat Senate, however, Democrats need to flip just two to tie the chamber, three for an outright majority.
Pennsylvania House, Senate
The Keystone State is another where Democrats have non-GOP gerrymandered legislative maps for the first time in over 10 years, though the road to the majority in either chamber is tougher here (it’s fair to expect it to be a two-cycle endeavor).
Democrats need to flip 12 seats (of 203) in the House to win majority control of that chamber.
The Pennsylvania Senate has staggered terms, and half of the upper chamber’s 50 seats are on the ballot in November; Democrats need to flip four of them to win a majority.
And now, let’s look at places where Democrats are working as hard to keep their majorities as Republicans are to take them away.
Maine House, Senate
Maine is home to one of Democrats' few governing trifectas–governorship + state House/Assembly + state Senate–in the country, and Republicans would sure like to take that away.
All 151 seats are up in the Maine House next month, and Republicans need to flip at least seven of them to win the majority back from Democrats.
In the state Senate, Republicans need to flip five seats (of 35) to take majority control of the chamber.
For the GOP to totally reverse that Dem trifecta in the Pine Tree State, Republicans need to flip both legislative chambers and racist retread Paul LePage has to defeat incumbent Gov. Janet Mills on Nov. 8.
Nevada Assembly, Senate
Democrats have majority control of both the Nevada Assembly and state Senate, but Republicans are working hard to flip at least one of these chambers.
The Silver State is another one of the few in which Democrats have trifecta control of state government, and the GOP is gunning to take that away.
The Nevada Senate is especially vulnerable, since Republicans only need to flip two of the 11 seats on the ballot this November (terms here are staggered–the other 10 members are up in 2024).
The battle for chamber control is a tougher one for the GOP in the Assembly, as they’ll need to flip five of those 42 seats to win the majority.
Playing offense and defense for majority control of legislatures is important, but there are a couple of states with another consideration in play:
Unchained Melody: Kansas and Wisconsin may (but are in no way guaranteed to) reelect their Democratic governors next month–and North Carolina’s isn’t up–but …
What if there aren’t enough fellow Dems in the legislature to sustain their vetoes of awful GOP legislation?
In Kansas, Gov. Laura Kelly is already dealing with veto-proof supermajorities in both legislative chambers.
However, if Democrats can net a two-seat gain in the state House, they’ll be able to sustain Kelly’s vetoes (providing, of course, that she wins reelection).
The state Senate isn’t up this year.
In Wisconsin, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers could conceivably win reelection, only to be confronted by a legislature that could overturn his vetoes.
It’s not outside of the realm of possibility (especially with Wisconsin’s awful new GOP-gerrymandered districts), but it’s a tall-seeming order in the Assembly:
Republicans have to net a nine-seat gain to make that happen.
In the state Senate, however, Republicans have to net only one seat to make that chamber veto-proof.
In North Carolina, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper isn’t on the ballot this year, but his ability to block extreme GOP legislation very much is.
Republicans need only to flip four House seats and two Senate seats to win veto-proof supermajorities in those chambers.
Democrats in the Tar Heel State seem fairly bullish about keeping those supermajorities at bay, but ideally, they’ll pick up a few more seats, just to give themselves a little veto padding, so to speak.
Because in 2019, Republicans demonstrated that they’ll stoop to just about any level to override a Cooper veto.
On Sept. 11 of that year, Republicans in the state House had announced that no votes would be held in the morning session, and many lawmakers took Republicans at their word and observed the somber anniversary, tended to personal business, or … hell, maybe they just slept in.
But Republicans lied.
GOP lawmakers had been trying to override Cooper’s veto of their state budget for literally two months at that point (Cooper wanted to expand Medicaid and increase teacher pay; the Republican budget did neither of those things), but as long as all Democrats were present, they couldn’t pull it off.
So they waited until they had just enough House members present for a quorum–the vast majority of them Republicans–and called a surprise vote that morning.
Pretty shitty, yeah?
Republicans still had to override the veto in the state Senate, where they also lacked the outright numbers to do so.
This budget battle dragged on until April 2020, when COVID concerns reoriented political priorities pretty much everywhere and Republicans were at last willing to abandon attempts to override the veto and instead reengage in negotiations.
Cooper and the GOP-controlled legislature finally agreed on a state budget in December of 2021.
So yeah, especially with the state Supreme Court’s Democratic majority on the line next month (which has been instrumental in curbing some of the Republican legislature’s worst excesses), it’s incredibly important for Democrats to keep–and hopefully expand–their numbers in the legislature.
… more on the North Carolina Supreme Court coming soon!
Thank you so much for being a part of this!
Maybe you’re one of the folks who encouraged me a decade ago to figure out how to keep journalists and other folks up to speed on state legislative goings-on …
Or maybe this is your very first foray into statehouse action …
Or maybe you fall somewhere in the middle …
What matters is that you’re here, now, doing this.
Because you matter.
So take care of yourself.
We need you.
Thanks for reading This Week in Statehouse Action! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.