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State legislatures: Still the real victory

By Bruce Walker
web posted November 11, 2002

Two years ago, almost to the day, I wrote an article entitled "State Legislatures: The Real Victory" which pointed out that the presidential election, which was still being studied by the druids of the judiciary, was less significant that the very real victory which Republicans had made in gaining seats and chambers in state legislative chambers.

The proof in the pudding is November 5, 2002. Although President Bush's stumping for Republicans was critically important, there is every reason to believe that November 2002 would not have been a clean Republican sweep without the careful, serious commitment made eight years earlier to fight for every state legislative seat.

Consider how the election results would have been spun if Republicans had not gained five seats in the House of Representatives, but lost five seats? The talking heads would be talking about the "razor thin Republican majority" and intense pressure would have been put on a few moderate Republicans to switch seats, just as former New York Congressman Forbes had done in 2000.

What was the difference between those two results? Almost certainly most of it was the result of Republican use or prevention of Democrat gerrymandering. Republican strategists themselves were saying more than a year before November 2002 would be worth eight or nine House seats, even if the popular vote remained exactly the same. This prediction turned out to be very astute.

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Norm Coleman cheers with supporters gathered at an election party with his wife Laurie (L) at a hotel in Bloomington, Minnesota on November 5
Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Norm Coleman cheers with supporters gathered at an election party with his wife Laurie (L) at a hotel in Bloomington, Minnesota on November 5

State legislative muscle also creates credible Republican candidates. Control of the Minnesota House of Representatives allowed Tim Pawlenty, as Majority Leader, to be a credible gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota. This undoubtedly helped Norm Coleman win the critical Minnesota Senate race.

Controlling state legislative chambers also allows Republicans to prevent Democrats from implementing electoral and voting trickery. If Republicans had maintained control of the New Jersey Legislature, then when Democrat bosses decided that the candidate chosen by New Jersey Democrat voters was likely to lose, Republicans could have passed remedial legislation to thwart that attempt.

What might this legislation provide? "If a political party wishes to replace a candidate chosen in a primary before a general election, then that party must hold a special primary and must reimburse the State of New Jersey with all costs of that special primary" or "If a political party wishes to replace a candidate chosen in a primary, it may do so, provided that the candidate chosen in the primary shall also remain on the ballot in the general election" or something equally fair, but effective, in stopping Democrat hanky panky.

Control of the Florida Legislature was probably crucial during the 2000 presidential election. Republican control meant that the legislature could have, at any time, simply chosen electors by vote of the legislature (as the Constitution allows). More importantly, if Democrats had controlled the Florida Legislature, they almost certainly would have tried to "solve" the "problem" by simply awarding the votes to Gore.

Indeed, Republican control of legislatures in states that Gore carried, notably Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Jersey, provided additional leverage to insure that Democrats were compelled to adhere to the spirit of the Constitution. Those three Republican-held legislatures could have met and voted Bush the electoral votes of those states, despite the fact that Gore carried the three states (Republicans do not do these sorts of things, but have the ability to strike back keeps the Clintonian Democrat Party "honest."

Perhaps the greatest long term effect of the legislative muscle of Republicans in 2000, however, was that the state legislative districts were not drawn with an eye to elect as many Democrat legislators as possible with as few votes as possible. The most remarkable single political fact of the 2002 election was that for the only time since 1938, the party controlling the White House did not lose state legislative seats in a midterm election.

And Republicans did much better than just status quo: they captured the Texas House of Representatives for the first time in 132 years; they captured the Missouri House of Representatives for the first time in 50 years; and they captured the Senate in both Arizona and in Wisconsin, so that the incoming Democrat governors will have to deal with Republicans who control both chambers of the state legislature.

The grand tide throughout the nation toward the Republican Party in state legislatures also sends a powerful warning shot across the bow of Democrats. The policies and the behavior of the Democrat Party is being rejected at this most basic level of American political power. When Democrats are losing races at this first step in political power, there is a reason. Attributing these many small victories to President Bush or a big campaign war chest simply does not work. Americans are looking at the party of Bill, Hillary, Al, Tom, and Dick - and the American people do not like what they see.

How can we be sure of this? Ask the thousands of Democrat candidates for state legislative seats across America. They have heard the message loud and clear. "All politics is local" Tip O'Neil once quipped. Not quite. But deeply felt political sentiments about a party are displayed most prominently in many hundreds of small victories in Vermont, in Arizona, in Florida and in Wisconsin. These all the building blocks of political power in America, and for the first time in a very long time, these building blocks are in the hands of the Republican Party.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a contributor to Citizens View, The Common Conservative, Conservative Truth and Port of Call.

Other related stories: (open in a new window)

  • State legislatures: The real victory by Bruce Walker (November 13, 2000)
    Forget about the big chair in the White House and Congress, Bruce Walker says the real Republican victory occurred at state legislatures

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