With national attention given to the Republican takeover of the Senate, the increase in GOP ranks in the House, and the party's capture of governorships in such unlikely states as Massachusetts, Illinois, and Maryland, relatively little attention has been paid to major Republican gains at the "grassroots" level of politics: state legislatures.
Where Republicans held 3,836 seats in 49 state legislatures (Nebraska has the only unicameral legislature in the nation, and it is non-partisan) before the election, Tuesday's results nationwide are likely to leave the GOP with well over 4,100 legislators.
More importantly, Republicans gained control of at least 10 new legislative chambers and achieved a tie in the West Virginia Senate.
The importance of the GOP's gains at this level is twofold:
- It demonstrates the party can win at levels close to the voters and sometimes in states often considered Democratic and important in the electoral count in 2016.
- It affords the party and its governors opportunities to pursue creative agendas such as those advanced by Republican Govs. Rick Snyder in Michigan and Scott Walker in Wisconsin, both of whom had state senates and houses of representatives controlled by fellow party members.
"When it comes to races for the state legislatures that held partisan elections, the Republican Party exceeded all expectations on Tuesday night," Tim Storey, legislative elections expert for the non-partisan National Council of State Legislatures, told Newsmax on Wednesday, "Democrats are at their lowest point at the state legislative level in more than 150 years."
As of Wednesday night, state legislative chambers stood at 66 controlled by Republicans, 28 by Democrats, one undecided, and two tied.
Among the legislative chambers in which Republicans captured fresh majorities on Tuesday were the Washington state Senate, the Colorado Senate, and the New Mexico House.
In addition, Republicans took new majorities in the West Virginia House of Delegates, the New Hampshire House, the Minnesota House, the New York state Senate, and the Nevada Senate and Assembly.
Many legislative contests are still undecided, so control of several legislative chambers was still uncertain as of Wednesday. The NCSL's Storey told Newsmax that the Colorado House of Representatives could "still go Republican," depending on a few undecided races.
As to what Republicans do in situations in which they have "the trifecta" (the governorship and control of the state House and Senate, which is the case in 23 states so far), the obvious examples are Michigan's Snyder in signing the historic right-to-work law of 2012 and Wisconsin's Walker, whose reform of the pension and healthcare plans for many public employees led to the much-watched attempt to recall him in 2012, which failed.
Both Snyder and Walker were re-elected on Tuesday night.
Even in states where Republicans did not win majorities in legislative chambers, their gaining of seats may prove significant. In Maryland, where Republican Larry Hogan Jr. scored one of the most stunning upsets of the year by taking the governorship, Democrats retained their strong hold on both the state Senate and the House of Delegates.
But Republicans made a net gain of six seats in the House of Delegates, changing the lineup from 98 Democrats and 43 Republicans to 90 Democrats and 49 Republicans, with two seats still undecided.
In the Maryland Senate, where the lineup was previously 36 Democrats and 11 Republicans, it is now 32 Democrats, 14 Republicans, and one race undecided. This means Republicans now have more than a third of the seats in each chamber, leaving Democrats unable to muster the two-thirds votes needed to override any vetoes from Hogan when he is governor.
While relatively little attention was devoted to this side of the Republican "wave" on Tuesday, the party's big gain in state legislatures across the country is likely to be seen and felt soon in terms of both policy and politics.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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