This Week in Statehouse Action: Thank U, Next edition
Welp, it came.
It went. (...quite well, actually!)
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And in many states, votes are still being counted.
Welcome to the super fun week after Election Day!
(Also, happy Veterans Day!)
Survivor: It’s not even remotely unusual to still be waiting on the outcomes of some state legislative races days–even weeks! [[stares in Alaska]]--after the final ballot has been cast.
And with 6,278 state legislative elections–races that are regularly decided by fewer than 500 votes–happening in 46 states, it was always going to take some time for the dust to settle in the most competitive chambers.
And yes, we’re still waiting anxiously for the dust to settle in places like Arizona and Pennsylvania. [[stares at nearly empty Tums bottle]]
But this week’s edition isn’t about pain; it’s about gain.
Specifically, all the gains Democrats made on Election Day–and possibly with more yet to come.
Fun fact! This election cycle was the first since 1934 where the party in power didn’t lose a single legislative chamber in the midterms!
Truth Hurts: With the exception of some key judicial races, downballot elections went extremely well for Team Blue!
In a nutshell, Democrats
Picked up governing trifectas in Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Minnesota (GOD I love alliteration).
Flipped at least three chambers (Michigan House, Michigan Senate, Minnesota Senate) from GOP to Democratic majority control, with votes yet to count to determine final numbers in the Pennsylvania House, New Hampshire House, and Arizona House.
Prevented Republicans from winning veto-proof majorities in North Carolina and Wisconsin, so those Democratic governors can still possibly get some things done.
Successfully defended majorities in every chamber targeted by the Republican State Leadership Committee (specifically Colorado, Maine, Minnesota [House], Nevada, Oregon, and Washington).
Meanwhile, RLSC was relegated to celebrating a few new supermajorities in already deep-red states with GOP governors (e.g. Florida, Ohio, South Carolina).
Win Some, Lose Some: As eager as I am to jump into the states where we know good things happened, choosing which one to lead with feels like picking a favorite child (...or at least how I imagine that would feel, not having any offspring myself).
So, let’s start from the top.
Arizona House, Senate:
As of this writing, this is the most exciting state where we have almost no definitive results in the most hotly contested races.
But that’s normal!
Most Arizonans vote by mail, which takes a longer time to count than in-person ballots–after all, you have to take them out of the envelope, verify them, and only then actually count the vote.
So we may actually not know who won key state races–including the governorship–for a little while yet.
But that slowness trickles all the way down the ballot, so we also don’t know yet which party will control the Arizona House and Senate.
Democrats needed 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.
Smart money is on Republicans retaining majority control of the Senate, though a tie isn’t out of the question in the House.
Also, a ballot measure important to the future of reproductive freedom (and other things, of course) is on track to a solid win in Arizona.
… and by “win,” I mean it’s actually gonna fail.
Prop. 128 would have given the (likely GOP-controlled) legislature the power to amend or repeal a ballot measure if courts strike down any part of it—and not just the bit that was invalidated.
Any or all of it.
Even after voters have already approved it.
So, for instance, if Arizona voters were to successfully place a measure protecting reproductive rights on the ballot, and if it were to pass, Republicans would turn to the GOP-controlled state Supreme Court to take issue with some–any–part of it (this wouldn’t be novel–conservative Arizona judges have previously invalidated ballot measures after voters already approved them).
Subsequently, this ballot measure would have let the Republicans running the legislature amend the already-passed measure–or repeal it altogether.
No input from the electorate required!
But anyway, it failed.
Also, via another ballot measure, Arizonans appear on track to finally get a lieutenant governor!
Arizona is currently one of five states with no LG.
The others are Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Wyoming.
Obviously we all now know that the much-ballyhooed “red wave” got lost on its way to shore, so you probably won’t be shocked to learn that Democrats here absolutely held on to their majority in the state Senate (and House, but that was kind of a given)--and apparently even expanded it.
Flipping the Senate in the Centennial State was always a long shot for Republicans, but they were emboldened by a new map that appeared to favor Republicans.
Of the chamber’s 35 seats, 17 were on the ballot this year, and Republicans needed to flip four to end the Democratic trifecta.
This was a tall order, to be sure, but the money flowing into these contests was pretty wild–one district alone has drawn more than $4.5 million in total spending.
But GOP money spent here was pretty much totally wasted:
Of seven districts viewed as competitive, Republicans appear to have won exactly zero of them.
Democrats are expected to begin the next legislative session with an even bigger majority (23 D/12 R, specifically).
Further, that majority likely won’t be at risk for at least four years; only two of the Democratic-held seats up in 2024 are considered flippable.
Okay, this one is kind of a downer.
Democrats’ goal here was to end the GOP supermajority in the chamber, giving them the ability to sustain reelected Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s vetoes.
Democrats needed to flip three House seats to get there.
Republicans also have a veto-proof majority in the state Senate, but that chamber wasn’t up this year.
So, while it’s extremely cool that voters protected Kansans’ right to obtain an abortion in August, the Republicans who control the legislature were smart to separate it from the general election.
They were likely hoping the lower, more conservative turnout that typically characterizes Kansas primaries would help the amendment–which, if it had passed, would have added language to the state constitution specifying that it doesn’t protect the right to an abortion and allowing the legislature to “regulate” the hell out of it.
But the anti-abortion amendment failed so spectacularly this summer (59-41%!) that separating that vote from the general election likely saved Republicans’ House supermajority.
Maine House, Senate:
Maine will remain home to one of Democrats' governing trifectas (governorship + state House/Assembly + state Senate).
All 151 seats were up in the Maine House, and Republicans needed to flip at least seven of them to win the majority back from Democrats.
But they failed, and Democrats likely even slightly expanded their majority.
In the state Senate, Republicans needed to flip five seats (of 35) to take majority control of the chamber.
They failed here, too.
Also racist retread Paul LePage lost to incumbent Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.
Michigan House, Senate, Supreme Court:
For the first time in almost 40 years, Democrats not only have majority control of both the Michigan state House and Senate; they also have a full state government trifecta with the reelection of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Democrats needed to flip just two House seats (of 110) to take control of that chamber, and flipping four state Senate seats (of 38) gave Dems a majority there.
Some votes are still being counted, but Democrats are expected to begin the next legislative session with a 56-54 majority in the House and a 20-18 edge in the Senate.
Beyond legislative elections, the Michigan bag was slightly mixed but generally quite good.
The Michigan state Supreme Court race results were … meh.
The court currently has a 4-3 progressive (technically, the election is nonpartisan, but candidates are nominated by their respective parties, so…) majority, and with the victories of two incumbents, they’ll keep that majority into the next court term but not expand it.
Minnesota House, Senate:
Democrats succeeded in keeping the governorship and the state House in the North Star State, and they picked up a trifecta here by flipping the state Senate.
Dems netted the two state Senate seats (out of 67) that they needed to win control of that chamber.
Democrats haven’t had a trifecta in Minnesota since 2014.
Nevada Assembly, Senate:
Nevada is another (see also: Arizona) heavy vote-by-mail state, which means vote counting tends to take longer here than in other states.
But, while the size of their majority remains in question, enough ballots have been tabulated that we know that Democrats will retain majority control of both the Nevada Assembly and state Senate.
… and this is despite Republicans spending almost $9.2 million to flip at least one of these chambers.
However, the Silver State was one of the few in which Democrats have trifecta control of state government, and if Gov. Sisolak loses reelection (as some are predicting), it’s done.
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, and Democrats do appear to have made gains in the chamber.
But political nerds and Granite State pundits are salivating over a rare possibility–a tied House!
We won’t know the final numbers for at least a week or so, though–with so many seats, many are won and lost by tiny margins, so literally every vote has to be counted before we have concrete results.
New Hampshire also boasts a cool first after Tuesday: the first transgender man ever elected to a state legislature!
North Carolina House, Senate, Supreme Court
Democrats’ goal this year was keeping Republicans from winning back their veto-proof majorities.
Republicans needed only to flip four House seats and two Senate seats to win veto-proof supermajorities in those chambers.
The GOP fell short–but just barely.
Rs picked up the two Senate seats they needed for that supermajority, but they came up one shy in the state House.
While this means that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes will technically still be protected, we can reasonably expect some of the remaining House conservaDems to cross over to vote with Rs and override them on occasion.
Republicans also finally rid themselves of that pesky Democratic majority on the state Supreme Court, too.
Two of the court’s seven seats were on the ballot.
Republicans had only to win one of them to flip the court away from its 4-3 Democratic majority, but they won both, giving them a 5-2 edge.
In fact, Republicans swept every judicial election in the state.
North Carolina Supreme Court justices serve eight-year terms, so this effectively ensures a GOP court majority for several years…
… and the seat up in 2024 is currently held by a Democrat, so that Republican court majority could get even more lopsided.
Now the GOP-dominated court will be the final say on myriad issues including abortion rights, gerrymandering, and voting rights, and much more.
Ohio Supreme Court:
Two seats with six-year terms were up on Tuesday, and Republicans won both of them, leaving the court with the same 4-3 GOP majority they started the week with.
Fun fact! The governor’s son (Pat DeWine) is one of the winners, and I’m sure he can be trusted recuse himself from cases that involve his daddy. [[rolls eyes]]
So the cash Republicans pumped into the Beaver State didn’t quite pay off.
The good fortunes of the GOP in states like Ohio and North Carolina didn’t meaningfully manifest here at all: Democrat Tina Kotek will be governor, and she’ll have Democratic majorities in both the Oregon House and Senate (though Rs did pick up a seat or two here and there).
Pennsylvania House, Senate:
The Keystone State is another (see also: Michigan) where Democrats had non-GOP gerrymandered legislative maps for the first time in over 10 years, though the road to the majority in either chamber was steeply uphill.
Democrats needed to flip 12 seats (of 203) in the House to win majority control of that chamber.
As of this writing, Democrats have netted 11 of those seats and are waiting on the outcomes of two harrowingly close House races in the Philadelphia suburbs to determine majority control of the chamber.
The Pennsylvania House Democrats, however, are confident enough in their odds of getting at least one more seat that they’ve declared victory in flipping the House and selected a new speaker.
Dems fared less well in the Senate, where they appear to have come out of the election with the 28-22 they entered it with.
This chamber has staggered terms, and half of the upper chamber’s 50 seats were on the ballot in November; Democrats needed to flip four of them to win a majority.
Wisconsin Assembly, Senate, attorney general:
Real talk: extreme GOP gerrymandering renders these chambers pretty irrelevant in terms of majority plays for Democrats.
But they were still very much worth watching, because Democratic Gov. Tony Evers got reelected, and Republicans really wanted to win veto-proof majorities so they can do whatever they want.
Republicans got to their veto-proof majority in the state Senate, but they came up short in the Assembly, so Evers’ vetoes remain safe.
The GOP flipped three seats in the lower chamber.
Kaul has pledged to not use Wisconsin AG/DOJ resources to enforce the ancient prohibition.
Go Your Own Way: And, while no one is really asking, I’m going to update you on the Treasure State, too, since I brought it up in the first place.
To the surprise of many, the state Supreme Court race here went against anti-reproductive rights conservatives.
This race was actually nonpartisan, but Republicans both in and outside of the state spent heavily to replace incumbent Justice Ingrid Gustafson with GOP attorney James Brown, who vocally supports overturning existing precedent in Montana that abortion rights are protected by the state constitution.
But Montana’s legislature is a different story.
Republicans needed to pick up just two more seats (in either chamber!), to have the legislative supermajority (100 out of 150 total House + Senate seats).
Early totals have them winning at least 103 seats.
This normally wouldn’t be a big deal, since GOP lawmakers are unlikely to want to overturn a GOP governor’s veto.
But the 100-seat supermajority opens a path to Republicans amending the state’s constitution.
So expect Montana Rs to waste no time in approving an amendment eroding or eliminating the constitutional privacy provisions that protect abortion rights here.
Once passed through the legislature, the amendment would then go before Montana voters for their approval.
Considering that an anti-abortion amendment failed here this week, though, that may be harder than Republicans expect.
A very good Election Day for Democrats is (mostly) in the bag, with more good news potentially to come!
Thanks for joining me on this wild trip.
And because we talk downballot stuff here, our little rest stop won’t last long.
After all, 2023 is a state legislative election year in Virginia (and Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Jersey, but those states aren’t especially interesting electorally).
And state legislative sessions will be in full swing all across the country in January.
Also, the next state Supreme Court election in Wisconsin (which will give Democrats a chance at flipping the court’s 4-3 conservative majority to a 4-3 progressive one) is just 143 days away!
(So hit up your rich and powerful liberal friends now, if you have them–since it’s for all the marbles, it’s going to be an incredibly important and expensive contest.)
But for now, we can take a little bit of a breather.
I know I am.
But I hope you know that I’m always here for your questions, comments, complaints, ideas, hopes, dreams…
So don’t be a stranger!
Hit me up if the mood strikes.
I’m always happy to hear from you!
Because you’re important.
And we need you.
Thanks for reading This Week in Statehouse Action! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.