Politics 2002Week of November 18

Republican Roots Watered

Although there were some undecided races and final verification had to be done, Rep. Christopher Cox (R.-Calif.) was right on the money when he e-mailed our office the morning after the elections two weeks ago to say he had heard Republicans now had more seats in state legislatures than at any time in the last 50 years. According to the National Association of Republican State Legislators, in the wake of November 5 the GOP has more legislative seats than the Democrats and, in fact, will have more than half the nation’s 7,382 legislative seats for the first time since 1952.

Such results, according to the NARSL’s Van Hesser, “are all the more dramatic when one considers that the President’s party has lost an average of 350 seats in state legislatures in every midterm election since 1938. “

Obviously, much credit goes to the most vigorous campaigning in mid-term elections by any President since Franklin Roosevelt in 1938 tried to purge nine senators who had thwarted his scheme to pack the Supreme Court. George W. Bush was much more successful in his mid-term foray, hitting 15 states in ten days, energizing his party’s conservative base and helping to swing many races that were genuinely undecided to the Republican candidate.

Recalling how Bill Clinton and James Carville successfully convinced voters that “It’s the economy, stupid” in their 1992 election triumph, veteran Democratic consultant Bob Keefe-who has run day-to-day operations at the Democratic National Committee and managed several presidential campaigns-concluded that Bush & Co. convinced swing voters that “It’s the President, stupid.”

Without question, much of the momentum generated by Bush among his party’s base for Senate and House candidates trickled down to legislative races. But, as Tim Storey of the Democrat-leaning National Conference of State Legislatures told the Washington Post after the election, “Term limits and redistricting also played key roles in changing the political landscape in the statehouses.” No fewer than 322 state lawmakers in 22 states were forced into retirement by term limits or were forced to seek other offices.

Republicans took over the state senate in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia and Wisconsin and the state house of representatives in Missouri, North Carolina and Texas. Democrats emerged with fresh control of both legislative chambers in only Illinois and New Mexico.

Over all, the GOP controls both houses of the state legislature in 21 states-up from 17 before the election-while Democrats maintained control in 16 states. Another 11 states have divided government (down from 14) and Nebraska’s unicameral legislature, as always, is technically non-partisan.

State Results Worth Noting

Florida-In the most-watched and most-costly legislative race in the Sunshine State, Republican State Rep. Jeff Atwater handily won the Broward County (Fort Lauderdale)-based senate district relinquished by fellow conservative Republican Debby Sanderson. Atwater defeated one of the mightiest of Democrats: two-term State Atty. Gen. Charles Butterworth, who was termed out of his statewide office.

Along with a fellow conservative, Broward-area State Rep. Connie Mack III, namesake-son of the former Republican U.S. senator (1988-2000), Atwater is considered a potential successor to Republican Rep. Clay Shaw-just re-elected to an 11th term with 61% of the vote-whenever Shaw moves up or steps down.

Georgia-“I want to thank [Georgia Democratic Gov.] Roy Barnes for all he did for the Republicans in the elections,” elated National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Davis (Va.) told a laughing luncheon crowd the day after the elections.

Indeed, it was Barnes, working closely with House Speaker Tom Murphy and State Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, who drew up a highly partisan redistricting map that eliminated the districts of Republican Representatives Saxby Chambliss and Bob Barr and created two new U.S. House districts earmarked for Democrats. The Augusta-area district was carved specifically for Walker’s son Champ Walker.

Rather than compete in the same district as fellow GOP Rep. Jack Kingston, Chambliss decided to take on supposedly unbeatable Democratic Sen. Max Cleland-and won. Barr chose unsuccessfully to compete with fellow Republican Rep. John Linder for a new district outside Atlanta, but his reshaped former district was held by another Republican, State Sen. Phil Gingery. The district supposedly crafted for young Walker elected stalwart conservative Republican Max Burns with 58% of the vote and, in a sensational development, voters turned out the elder Walker as well. And Murphy, the dean of state house speakers who has wielded his gavel since 1974, was also defeated.

So far since the election, three Georgia Democratic state senators have changed parties, giving Republicans a first-in-the-century majority in the senate.

And, yes, Barnes himself was defeated for re-election by Republican Sonny Perdue.

Maryland-Along with Republican Bob Ehrlich’s dramatic election as governor, Free State Republicans picked up one state senate seat and eight new seats in the house of delegates. The most newsworthy of all the gains in the house came when a first-time candidate, conservative Republican LeRoy Myers, Jr., defeated powerful Speaker Casper Taylor, Jr. Waging a strong grass-roots campaign, Myers mobilized sentiment among anti-tax activists and gun-owners to edge out Taylor, who had supported tax increases and what Myers called “gun-grabbing” legislation.

In Frederick County, Alex Mooney-the youngest and most conservative Maryland state senator-overcame a heavy-spending challenge from liberal Democratic State Delegate Sue Hecht, who at one point likened Mooney to Adolf Hitler. Also in Frederick, heirs to two of the state’s best-known Republican names emerged triumphant in races for seats in the house of delegates: Joseph Bartlett, son of Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R.-Md.), who was re-elected to his House seat, and 23-year-old University of Maryland graduate Patrick Hogan, son of former Republican Rep. (1968-74) Larry Hogan and Frederick County Commissioner Ilona Hogan.

Missouri-“I’m going into my first-ever joint session in which Republicans control everything,” State Senate President Peter Kinder told me last week from the state capitol in Jefferson City. A year after two special elections made Kinder the first Republican senate president in half-a-century, Show-Me State Republicans handily captured the state house of representatives for the first time since 1955. The new house speaker is State Rep. Catherine Hanaway-like Kinder, a strong conservative, but a relative newcomer to politics at age 39, having served only two terms in the house. Hanaway’s secret for political success, pundits and pols agree, is tremendous fund-raising prowess: This year, she raised more than $1.4 million for fellow Republican house candidates.

Short Takes

Lucy on the Field: Despite the strong Republican performance in most statewide races, Alabama Democrats did manage to hang on to the office of lieutenant governor. Lucy Baxley, former wife of 1986 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill Baxley, edged out conservative Republican State Sen. Bill Armistead. . . . Betsy’s Back?-That’s the word out of Michigan. Former GOP National Committeewoman and State Party Chairman Betsy DeVos, long considered one of the best fund-raisers in the nation, indicated last week that she would attempt to retake the party helm at the next state convention in February. Once one of the closest associates of outgoing Gov. John Engler, DeVos had a bitter falling out with him and resigned as chairman after Engler opposed her statewide school voucher initiative in 2000. Engler-appointed State Chairman Rusty Hills so far insists he will run again and at least three other Republicans are eyeing the chairmanship race. . . . Empire State Finale: In the only truly competitive statewide race in New York State, former New York City Controller Alan Hevesi won a narrow victory as state comptroller, the office that incumbent Democrat Carl McCall left to run unsuccessfully for governor. Hevesi edged out State Assembly Republican Leader John Faso, who had the blessings of the Republican, Conservative and Right-to-Life parties, by 50% to 47%. . . . Perry’s Plight: Two days after the November elections, conservative Oregon Republican State Chairman Perry Atkinson found himself under attack from party moderates. Sen. Gordon Smith, who had just been re-elected by a handsome margin, informed Atkinson by telephone that he was supporting former House Speaker Lynn Snodgrass of Portland for chairman at the next state committee meeting in January. Snodgrass already has the backing of Rep. Greg Walden, former Gov. (1978-86) Vic Atiyeh, and Sen. (1966-96) Mark Hatfield in his challenge to Medford radio station owner Atkinson.