Most of the national spotlight following Tuesday’s midterm elections has been on Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives — but the party may have had an even bigger victory in state legislatures.
Republicans took the majority in at least 14 state legislatures. They now have control of both legislative chambers (akin to house and senates) in 26 states, and control the ability to redistrict in 16.
In New Hampshire alone, Republicans picked up 120 seats. Both chambers are held by Republicans in North Carolina for the first time since 1870 and in Alabama for the first time since Reconstruction.
In total, the GOP picked up 680 seats. The previous record was set in 1974 after Watergate when Democrats took control of 628 seats. Republicans picked up 472 seats in their big 1994 wins.
“That control is a particularly bad sign for Democrats as they go into the redistricting process,” notes National Journal‘s Jeremy Jacobs. “If the GOP is effective in gerrymandering districts in many of these states, it could eventually lead to the GOP actually expanding its majority in 2012.”
“Republicans now hold the redistricting “trifecta” — both chambers of the state legislature and the governorship — in 15 states,” Jacobs adds. “They also control the Nebraska governorship and the unicameral legislature, taking the number up to 16. And in North Carolina — probably the state most gerrymandered to benefit Democrats — Republicans hold both chambers of the state legislature and the Democratic governor does not have veto power over redistricting proposals.”
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Utah, Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Ohio are all states where Republicans have total control over redistricting. Florida, however, does not allow the state legislature to reapportion seats, as per a recently-passed ballot referendum.
Democrats control the redistricting “trifecta” in at least eight states — Jacobs notes that “that number jumps to nine if Democrats hold onto the Colorado state House and 10 if you include Rhode Island, which just elected independent Lincoln Chafee as governor. That’s more states than the Democrats controlled during the last redistricting battle in 2001.”
The GOP now has unilateral control of 190 congressional districts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“2010 will go down as a defining political election that will shape the national political landscape for at least the next 10 years,” NCSL elections specialist Tim Storey said in a statement. “The GOP… finds itself now in the best position for both congressional and state legislative line-drawing than it has enjoyed in the modern era of redistricting.”