Democrats win back governorships, state legislatures
Democrats battled their way back to power in state capitols across the U.S. this week, seizing seven governorships and six legislative chambers and halting years of Republican state-level gains. In Kansas, Democratic state lawmaker Laura Kelly handily defeated Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Trump ally known for his fiery warnings about election fraud. “What happened in Kansas,” Kelly said in a victory speech, “was a wave of common sense.” Wisconsin voters denied a third term to GOP Gov. Scott Walker, who won national attention by rolling back union rights, narrowly electing Democrat Tony Evers. Democrats also flipped governor’s offices in Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, and New Mexico. But Republicans held on to prize governorships in Ohio and Florida, where former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis beat the presumed front-runner, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, by less than 1 percentage point. In Georgia, the race between Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp was too close to call as The Week went to press.
Meanwhile, Democrats ate into the GOP’s state legislative dominance, flipping more than 350 seats from red to blue nationwide and securing new trifectas—single-party control of the governorship, state Senate, and state House—in six states, including Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, and New York. Republicans now have full control of the political branches in 22 states, and Democrats in 14.
What the columnists said
At last, Democrats have recognized the importance of state-level races, said Emma Green in TheAtlantic.com. The party neglected those contests under President Obama, and by 2016 the GOP controlled some two-thirds of state chambers. “In some states, the result was a deep-red legislature governing a purple or blue majority.” Realizing their mistake, Democratic groups have poured resources into state-level efforts over the past two years. Now the party will be able to shape local legislation on taxes, education, and health care that directly affects millions of Americans’ everyday lives.
While other states became bluer, Florida remained resolutely red, said Scott Maxwell in OrlandoSentinel.com. DeSantis was helped by the fact that the Democrats’ gubernatorial candidate was “a mayor whose city is in the midst of an FBI investigation.” But what really gave DeSantis the edge was Florida’s 20 straight years of low-tax, minimal-regulation Republican rule. All he had to do was ask Floridians if they were happy with their lives. “If so, I’m your guy—the one who will continue the GOP policies you’ve come to expect and enjoy.”
The ripples of this election will be felt for decades to come, said Dylan Scott in Vox.com. Many new Democratic governors and legislators will still be in office in 2020, when state-level lawmakers will start to oversee the post-census redrawing of congressional districts. Democratic candidates faced a considerable disadvantage this election because of gerrymandering, “a byproduct of the state-level losses they endured in 2010 before the last round of redistricting.” But the party’s 2018 wins should provide “an opening to flip the script—or at least give them a seat at the table this time.” ■