Shifting of power likely to rattle state houses

By Michael Rubinkam
Associated Press / November 4, 2010

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PHILADELPHIA— From Pennsylvania to Arkansas, New Hampshire to Ohio, the electorate turned over incumbents Tuesday like a gardener turns over earth. Republicans reaped an impressive harvest nationwide, and in some places their sweep reversed balances of power where Democratic roots run deep.

The GOP’s reward: governing a fickle, angry electorate in a time of busted state budgets and high anxiety about jobs and joblessness. And for voters in states that flipped from Democratic to Republican control, what they sought — change — is definitely in store.

In Ohio and Wisconsin, high-speed rail projects may be scuttled. In Pennsylvania, privatization of the state liquor stores is back on the table. In the Democratic stronghold of Minnesota, long-dormant GOP proposals to establish racetrack gambling, require a photo ID for voting, and amend the state Constitution to ban gay marriage may find new life. And everywhere, Tuesday’s winners promised to focus on the economy.

“Wherever you were, the mantra was jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs,’’ said Randall Miller, a politics professor at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

But “states don’t really control their economic destinies,’’ he said, so “Republicans might reap a whirlwind by not being able to do very much themselves.’’

The party will control 25 legislatures, boosting its power in state houses by the most since 1928, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Republicans won the House and Senate in Alabama for the first time since the end of the Civil War. They took governors’ seats from Democrats in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and at least nine other states.

Such strength gives the party greater influence in redrawing congressional districts next year. Fifteen to 25 seats in the US House of Representatives are more likely to remain Republican or switch from Democratic after redistricting as a result of the party’s victory in the states, said Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican State Leadership Committee.

Congressional seats will be reapportioned following the 2010 US census. States with shrinking populations will lose seats, and those with growing ones will gain them. The party that draws the election map in each state will shape the political landscape for the next 10 years.

Republicans nationwide promised to wield their newfound power to restrain the size and scope of government and jolt the economy.

In New Hampshire, Republicans won 297 of the state’s 400 House seats with the possibility of adding to the tally as final votes are counted. Secretary of State William Gardner had to go back to 1962 to find a time when the GOP won 19 of the 24 Senate seats, as the party did Tuesday.

Material from Bloomberg News was used in this report.


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