It's part of an effort to block Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s (D) plan to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to cover some 400,000 low-income Virginians, but it also has a broader, symbolic consequence: The unexpected flip means that the Republican Party has gained complete legislative control of all 11 Confederate states for the second time since the early 1870s, or the post-Civil War era known as Reconstruction.
Throughout Reconstruction, freed slaves had real voting rights and protection from federal troops. Democrats were relegated to minority status as reform-minded Republicans launched a legislative push for civil rights and other progressive reforms that would later be unthinkable in the South. Democrats responded with a campaign of terrorism and murder that effectively ended the federal occupation and returned power to the former slave-owning elites. The gains made by African-Americans were systematically rolled back and the Ku Klux Klan remained a powerful force within the Democratic Party into the 20th century.
From the end of Reconstruction in 1877, Democrats maintained unrivaled control in the Southern legislatures, a period known as the “Solid South” that spanned through the Jim Crow era and into the 1960s.
Republicans started picking up majority support in presidential elections in Southern states as white voters there punished Democrats for their support of civil rights legislation. But Democrats didn’t start losing power over Confederate state legislatures until the mid-1990s -- most notably, the elections of 1994, when the GOP won over both the U.S. House and the Senate.
In the 2010 election cycle, Republicans made historic legislative gains, picking up more state seats than the party had held since Reconstruction. Alabama’s 2010 majority turnover paralleled the broader political shift, and two years later Arkansas and North Carolina followed suit with 2012 legislative flips that also marked a first since the 1870s.
Some 140 years later, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and finally Virginia have all come back into Republican hands.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said that the Virginia flip gave Republicans full control of all the legislatures for the first time since Reconstruction. In fact, when Republicans took control of Arkansas in 2013, Virginia was also in the hands of the GOP, giving them full control until Democrats retook the Virginia Senate in elections in November of that year.