Friday, November 03, 2006

Don't Forget the Statehouses!

Lost in all the hubbub about Democratic chances for retaking control of the House and even the Senate this year has been an issue of arguably almost equal structural importance: the battle for the statehouses nationwide.


In most states, it is control of the statehouse that determines who gets to gerrymander congressional districts in their favor--and as such, altering control of the statehouses influences congressional elections for even decades after the flip occurs.  It is the statehouses that provide an almost equally powerful buffer to the more prominent governorships.


It's a battle that the Democrats are winning handily.  The source for this is a New York Times article that came out on October 27th, but I didn't see get much play...


According to the article:


More than 6,000 state legislative seats in 46 states are on the Nov. 7 ballot, and like the seismic state elections in 1994 and 1974 the cumulative impact of the outcomes could be immense, with Democrats possibly gaining control of a majority of state capitols for the first time in a decade.


While the nation's attention has been fixed on the question of which party will control Congress, another campaign season has been unfolding in the shadows -- upstaged and overlooked but more likely to affect the day-to-day life of voters than the big-money Congressional races.


Most significant, as I said above, is the paragraph that follows:


Most significantly, the groundwork for redrawing Congressional districts after the 2010 census will be done under the 50 capitol domes, and the party in power will set the table for those discussions in ways favorable to its interests. Gains made this year, analysts say, will help give incumbents a leg up in the final elections leading up to the redistricting.


If the Democrats take control of a majority of the legislatures, which polls indicate could happen, women could also attain leadership positions in greater numbers, since Democratic women in state capitals outnumber Republican women by nearly two to one. The next generation of national political leaders, by tradition, is nurtured in the state legislatures.


We're talking here about MAJOR structural advantages--the kinds of tilt-the-playing-field-your-direction advantages that have fueled Karl Rove's dreams of permanent Republican majorities.


It is a battle that the GOP has largely overlooked, as it focuses it eyes on the prize of retaining the Upper and Lower chambers in D.C. in the face of widespread incompetence and malfeasance.  To be sure, as the article goes on to say, the GOP has spent more money than the Dems--and even doubled its previous expenditures on these races--but the national attention has not been there, and they haven't spent nearly the money they would need to in order to hold onto these structural advantageous statehouses.


But above all, it is the parity of the statehouses today that make a possible Democratic wave in this area completely shift the current balance of power--a balance that hangs on a wire as we speak.


Republicans control both chambers in 20 states, Democrats in 19. One state, Nebraska, has a nonpartisan legislature, while the parties split control in the remaining 10 states. States to watch on Election Day include Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin, where Republicans have narrow majorities in the lower house or senate. Democrats have narrow majorities in Colorado, Maine and Montana.


What makes the races even more suspenseful is that the parties have not been so even in decades, if ever. Of the 7,382 statehouse legislative seats across the country, Democrats hold 21 more than the Republicans, a margin of less than half a percent.


In 17 of the 46 states that will elect some or all of their state senators, a shift of only three seats would alter party control in the senate, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 12 state houses, a shift of five or fewer seats would tip the balance.


The article goes on to further mention that the extra money, as well as the stakes, have meant that statehouse races have grown increasingly hostile, negative and bitter.  In Iowa, for instance, where there is almost perfect parity in the statehouse, one Republican candidate resigned from the party in protest over his own state party's attack ads on the Democrat.


When all is said and done, however, the statehouses are just one more area where the last 25 years of Republican gains in structural advantages can be undone:


Whether the Republicans can hold onto the gains in state legislatures that they made beginning in the 1980s is probably the central question of the election.


The Democrats, for most of the 20th century, were statehouse titans all over the nation -- with a peak in the mid-1970s when they controlled close to 70 percent of all legislative seats. In the post-Watergate election of November 1974, they added 628 legislature seats in just one night.


The Republicans began a surge in the 1980s, making major strides in 1994, when they gained 514 seats overnight. They finally gained dominance in 2002, picking up enough seats to surpass the Democrats for the first time in 50 years. There has been almost perfect parity since then.


And it's time to TAKE OUR GOVERNMENT BACK.  From the ground up.  As you know, our own Brian Keeler (a.k.a. NYBri) has put himself out there to be a small part of that efforts.


And those of you who don't live in areas where there's a competitive national House or Senate seat or Governor race may well have a contested State Senate or Statehouse race that could use your help and activist support.


EVERYONE has something they can do, at any level.  Because the fight to take our country back is happening just like that--at every level.  Our revolution is multi-faceted, and the prizes are multiple.


So as we watch the returns come in from higher-profile Governor and D.C. Senate and House races this year on November 7th and 8th, also keep your eye on those Statehouses!

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