State Legislative Races To Shape Political Decade
By Clare Nolan, Senior Writer
While the presidential race between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush hogs the headlines, voters in 43 of the 50 states will go to the polls in November to determine the makeup of their state legislatures. Those decisions will be critically important to national and state politics for the next decade.
Every ten years, lawmakers redraw voting districts in the 50 states based on the results of the latest census. Because the lines can be manipulated to increase the power of one party at the expense of the other, the winners of state legislative seats in 2000 will be able to impact state and congressional politics for years to come.
This year, five states, Delaware, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina and North Dakota, will chose new governors. In another six states, current governors face re-election: Indiana, New Hampshire, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.
Nationally, Republicans already occupy the executive offices in 31 states. The GOP also has the better chance of picking up additional seats this year. Seven of the 11 contested governorships are now held by Democrats.
Ninety-four percent of the states' legislative offices are up for grabs, or 6,975 seats. Only six states are not holding legislative elections this year: New Jersey, Virginia, Mississippi, Maryland, Alabama and Louisiana. Michigan's House is up for re-election, but not its Senate.
In 43 states, voters will fill every seat of the lower chamber. Sixteen states will elect the entire Senate; 18 states will choose half or just over half of the Senate; Nine states have slightly fewer than half their Senate seats open. Illinois elects a third of its Senate this year.
Voters in Nebraska, which has just one chamber, will choose 25 of the state's 49 legislators.
"The number of chambers each party has will likely not change too much," said Kevin Mack, director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. Mack says he expects his party to pick up a net gain of two chambers in this year's election.
As in the Presidential race, the key battleground states -- where party control could change -- are Pennsylvania and its neighbors in the Midwest. In Pennsylvania, voters face a heated contest for dominance of the state House, where Republicans now hold a slim, three-seat majority.
Control of the House in Indiana and Michigan is also at stake. The lower chambers in both states have changed hands in recent elections.
Democrats now hold the Indiana House, but by just six seats. Indiana, home to former Vice President Dan Quayle, has long been considered a Republican stronghold, but that may be changing. The 2000 election could offer some clarity. The state's Democratic governor, Frank O'Bannon, also faces reelection.
Although dominated by Republicans now, Michigan has traditionally been a swing state. Voters in the Wolverine State have strongly supported their Republican governor, John Engler, while also voting for Bill Clinton. Republicans now hold a 58-52 majority in the Michigan House.
Turnout in Missouri this year is likely to be heavy, with three of four statewide offices open and a contentious U.S. Senate race to be decided. Gov. Mel Carnahan, a Democrat, cannot run again because of term limits. He is challenging Republican John Ashcroft for his Senate seat. Control of both the Missouri House and Senate is up for grabs. Democrats hold the Senate by just two seats and the House by just 10.
In Texas, Democrats and Republicans will square off over both houses. Democrats now hold a six-seat majority in the House and Republicans control the Senate by just one vote. With Republican George W. Bush likely to pull his supporters to the polls, however, the odds are in the GOP's favor.
Other close state Senate races are in Arizona, Connecticut, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Debate over the Confederate flag and the Martin Luther King holiday will likely make the South Carolina Senate contest even hotter. Democrats now control the state Senate by two seats.
Washington voters will likely settle the tie in their House, currently split 49-49. Illinois House Democrats may be helped in their struggle to maintain control by a campaign-finance scandal that has embroiled the state's Republican governor, George Ryan.
Term limits kick in for the first time in six states -- in both houses in Arizona, Florida, Montana, Ohio and South Dakota and in the Arkansas Senate and the Missouri House.
Term expirations in the Arizona Senate may help the Democrats in their attempt to control that chamber since more Republican than Democratic incumbents will vacate their seats.
In addition, term limits will continue to be felt in the Arkansas House, and in both chambers in California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan and Oregon.
Ohio will see the largest turnover because of term limits. Forty-three of the 99 members of the Ohio House will leave because of term limits. Fifty-five of Florida's 120 House members are also at the end of their allowed terms. Both states legislatures, however, are now considered firmly in the Republican camp.