Republicans won control of at least 19 state legislative chambers Tuesday — gains with implications that could extend for the next decade as the GOP now holds an outsized role in the redistricting process in several key states.
With new power in the redrawing of Congressional district maps, Republican State Leadership Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie projected the big wins would translate to a gain of 15 to 25 House seats for the party.
That includes seats Republicans will either pick up or save from being carved out after the redistricting process in each state concludes next year, another huge opportunity for a party that just gained a net 60 House seats Tuesday.
“That has very dramatic implications for the next 10 years,” Gillespie said on a Wednesday press conference call. “Of the 18 states that are going to gain or lose seats in reapportionment, Republicans now have majorities in 10 of those states.”
Republicans made state legislative history in a number of states, and Gillespie paid particular attention to the Great Lakes states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, all of which will have GOP majorities in both chambers and a Republican governor.
The party also now holds a majority of the governorships after picking up 10 states where Democrats are in charge, and several more remain too close to call. Governors can be instrumental in Congressional remapping, as they hold veto power or appoint a commission in all but eight states.
In Ohio, Republicans picked up both the state House and the governorship from Democrats, and they already had control of the state Senate.
With five Republican Congressional district pickups and the state expected to lose two seats to reapportionment, the state-level gains will be felt as the new map is drawn.
“It’s much better to have Dennis Kucinich’s [D] seat in danger of being carved out than John Boehner’s [R], the new Speaker of the House,” Gillespie said.
Another state to watch is North Carolina, where Republicans picked up both the House and the Senate. Republicans have not held the state Senate since 1870, according to an analysis released Wednesday by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
An added twist there is that unlike powers granted to governors in many other states, Gov. Beverly Perdue (D) does not have veto power in redistricting.
Along with North Carolina, Republicans stepped out of the minority in both legislative chambers in Alabama, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maine and New Hampshire. None of those states uses an independent commission to draw new Congressional district lines, as 13 other states do.
As the party did in Ohio and Pennsylvania, Republicans also picked up five House seats in New York, which could lose two seats in reapportionment. While Democrats won the governorship and held the state House, Republicans as of Wednesday night appeared poised to take the state Senate.
NCSL redistricting expert Tim Storey said Monday that “Republicans really need to win the state Senate to have any say” in New York’s redistricting process.
Democrats are concerned about the ramifications of the realignment and what it could mean for their newly depleted House Caucus.
Lone Star Project founder Matt Angle said Republicans will “gerrymander districts” if they can and could put federally mandated Voting Rights Act districts at risk. The Lone Star Project is a Democratic group focused on influencing the redistricting process in Texas, the state projected to gain the most seats through reapportionment.
“The timing could not have been worse for a sweep by Republicans,” Angle added.
Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee Executive Director Michael Sargeant accused Republicans of playing “gerrymandering games” and putting partisanship above the interests of voters given Gillespie’s 15- to 25-seat pickup prediction.
“It’s telling that the Republicans want to brag about their intentions to place partisan considerations above the interests of voters in their states when they’re in control of the redistricting process,” he said.
The DLCC has been working since 2001 to take control of state legislatures and increase the party’s influence on next year’s redistricting, and it spent $10 million on its efforts. The DLCC is the only group that helps Democrats solely at the state legislative level, but the Democratic National Committee also made political and monetary decisions based on redistricting.
Still, Storey wrote Wednesday that Republicans had a historic night in all regions of the country, including the South, which is expected to gain a handful of seats after reapportionment.
“In the South, Republicans now control 18 of the 28 legislative chambers and a majority of all southern legislative seats for the first time since reconstruction,” Storey wrote on the NCSL website. “Prior to the election, each party held 14 southern chambers, and just 20 years ago, there were no legislative chambers in the south held by the GOP.”
After picking up 19 chambers, the GOP controls 56 of the 98 partisan legislative chambers nationwide. Democrats hold 38 chambers, one is tied and four remained up in the air as of press time.
Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (Ga.), who is leading the National Republican Congressional Committee’s coordinated redistricting efforts, said the elections were about more than just Tuesday’s victories: “Winning these state Houses and state Senates is going to pay off for the next decade.”