State Legislative Elections: Democrats Gain Control Of Eight Chambers

Democrats are celebrating gains in state legislatures around the country -- including capturing control of eight chambers -- two years after a Republican wave swept many of them out.

Democrats picked up control of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, which has been held by the Tea Party-dominated state Republican Party since 2010. They also grabbed the Oregon House, where the parties have been tied for the last two years, as well as the Colorado House, the Maine House and Senate, the Minnesota House and Senate, and the New York Senate.

Republicans did win three chambers, including wrestling back control of the Wisconsin state Senate, which they lost in the June recall election.

"Voters rejected the hyper-partisanship of Republicans in legislatures," said Michael Sargeant, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. "Republicans were not working on solutions for real people."

The DLCC and its GOP counterpart, the Republican State Leadership Committee -- both Washington-based groups seeking to elect party members to state legislative seats -- took active roles in the elections.

Adam Temple, an RSLC spokesman, conceded the results were not what the committee was "hoping for," but said he does not see them as a referendum on Republican state policies. "It was a combination of a number of factors," Temple said.

Among the factors he cited were the GOP gains in 2010, which gave Republicans more seats and chambers to defend, and the higher voter turnout in a presidential election year, which he said benefited Democrats. Temple pointed to the GOP recapture of the Wisconsin Senate as evidence that Republican policies were "not something that voters were concerned about."

Democrats had taken the Wisconsin Senate in this year's June recall election, but were not able to do much because the chamber had already adjourned for the year before the recall election. Under state law, the Senate could convene only with the consent of the Republican-controlled state Assembly or by order of Gov. Scott Walker (R). Wisconsin Democrats did form committees and hold several committee meetings in the time they controlled the Senate.

Among other GOP gains at the state level were both houses of the Arkansas Legislature, which have not been in Republican hands since the Civil War and were some of the last remaining Democratic chambers in the South. The party and independent conservative groups, including the Koch brothers-affiliated Americans for Prosperity, placed a major focus on Arkansas.

For their part, Democrats were aiming at the 400-member New Hampshire House, with its Tea Party tilt. Over the last two years, state Speaker William O'Brien (R-Mont Vernon) and his allies had pushed for voter ID restrictions, tax cuts and anti-abortion laws. Besides taking the House, state Democrats are also celebrating their retention of the New Hampshire governorship with Maggie Hassen's victory. But Republicans are likely to keep control of the New Hampshire Senate.

Both Temple and Sargeant said they think state legislative races will receive even more national attention -- from party organizations and outside groups -- in future years.

"I am curious to see if the right-wing organizations will continue to move in this direction after last night," Sargeant said. "I believe they will."



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