The Republican mauling of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives may be historic, with at least 60 seats changing hands, but a more important story might be what has happened in state legislatures across the nation.
Republican gains in the states could lead to GOP domination of Congress for a decade.
With the completion of the 2010 Census, congressional redistricting is looming. At least 18 Democrat-controlled state legislative bodies have been taken over by Republicans, and several more are still in play. The GOP now has complete control over legislatures in at least 25 states, while Democrats control 16. Six are shared and three undecided.
State legislative bodies changed hands throughout the East and Midwest. The Alabama and North Carolina legislatures, formerly with Democratic majorities, are now controlled by Republicans for the first time since the 1870s. Entire legislatures also went Republican in Maine, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Minnesota state Senate is in Republican hands for the first time in history.
In addition, state houses have gone Republican in Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Montana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Republicans now control 28 governor’s mansions, a gain of four, and six gubernatorial races have not yet been decided.
Republicans now control the governorship and legislatures in the key political battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.
“The Republican Party finds itself in the best position for both congressional and state legislative redistricting that it’s ever enjoyed, certainly in the modern era of redistricting,” said Tim Storey, elections analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
National and state legislative districts will be redrawn throughout the country in 2011 and are expected to influence the 2012 and subsequent elections significantly.
Storey was not willing to predict how many congressional seats would change hands as a result of nationwide redistricting, but he acknowledged that the GOP could receive a big boost.
“I think redistricting will give Republicans a head start in congressional races,” Storey told WND. “It certainly matters, but [gerrymandering] is not the only thing … parties have to nominate good candidates, and states have to comply with the Voting Rights Act and traditional redistricting principles like communities of interest, contiguous districts, and equal populations.”
Following the 2010 census, 18 states are expected to gain or lose seats in the U.S. Congress as their relative numbers grow or decline. The U.S. House contains 435 seats, which are “reapportioned” every decade to reflect changes in population.
Reapportionment gives the party controlling redistricting added opportunity to create new districts in favorable locations or to combine districts to force incumbents in the rival party to run against each other.
Erickson points out that Republicans will now control at least 10 and possibly more of the states affected by reapportionment.
Some conservative activists would like to see the newly empowered Republicans refrain from drawing legislative districts to their advantage and instead create “block districts” that are more geographically compact and perhaps more competitive.
“There is a reform movement all over the country to stop gerrymandering,” said Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth about Homosexuality. “I hope the Republicans don’t enact a conservative version of the same nasty politics the Democrats have practiced. Why don’t we do the noble thing and cut out the whole cynical process of gerrymandering?”
Eliminating gerrymandering by creating block districts is not likely, in Storey’s view.
“I don’t know about block districts,” said Storey. “I think it’s very unlikely. Natural geography doesn’t follow those kinds of patterns, and you also have to give them the same populations and comply with the minority provisions of the Voting Rights Act. People have tried before and haven’t been able to make it work.”