With all the attention last week focused on the historic contest for President, as well as the dramatic races for the Senate and House, overlooked were other contests of interest to conservatives. As Democratic gun-for-hire James Carville put it at a press breakfast shortly before the balloting: “The results for Congress will be the most over-reported political story and the elections for state legislatures will be the most under-reported.” But in emphasizing that legislatures in almost every state will draw the new lines for congressional districts after the 2010 census, the “ragin’ Cajun” warned: “Anywhere you get two houses of the legislature under Democratic control and a Democratic governor, watch out!”
As it turned out, in the 45 states where either a state house or senate or both were up for election last week, the results were a wash, and there was relatively little change in which party controls what. But there were other under-reported results last week.
Illinois: Tough Time for Tony
One of the few Chicago Republicans in recent years considered a potential star for the party lost another bid for office. Cook County (Chicago) Commissioner Tony Peraica was beaten 3-2 in a race for the county state’s attorney. The Croatian-born Peraica, a past Pat Buchanan for President booster, was beaten by Democrat Anita Alvarez, a reliable ally of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and outgoing State’s Attorney Dick Devine.
Two years ago, Peraica waged a strong-but-losing race for president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners against Democrat Todd Stoger, son of the longtime Board President. Illinois Democrats also retained their majorities in both houses of the state legislature.
Louisiana: To Be Continued
With Pelican State run-offs held November 4, the general elections for U.S. House races won’t take place until December 4. Under indictment for corruption charges and now known nationwide for having the FBI find cash in his refrigerator during a raid on his home, Rep. Bill Jefferson nonetheless won the all-important Democratic run-off in the New Orleans-based 2nd District. Jefferson defeated TV newscaster Helena Moreno with 52 percent of the vote and is considered a cinch for re-election next month.
Things were competitive in the 4th District (Shreveport), where Republican Rep. Jim McCrery is retiring. Physician Barry Fleming won a spirited run-off against trucking executive Chris Gorman with 56 percent of the vote. Conservative Fleming now faces the Democratic nominee, longtime District Attorney Paul Carmouche, next month.
Michigan: There Goes the Judge
As upset as John McCain’s much-publicized exit from their state made them, Michigan Republicans had something else to anger them on Tuesday. In the most significant statewide race, Chief Justice Cliff Taylor was defeated for re-election to his seat on the seven-justice state supreme court. Federalist Society member Taylor, one of the four strict-constructionist jurists on the court often dubbed “the court Ronald Reagan wished he had” — was edged out by Wayne County Circuit Judge Diane Marie Hathaway. Groups ranging from the AFL-CIO to the Progressive Women’s Alliance poured major dollars behind Democrat Hathaway. Taylor’s defeat puts the number of constructionist and liberal judges on the court at three each, with Justice Betty Weave — a weak Republican who often votes with the liberal bloc — the swing vote.
Democrats increased their majority in the state house of representatives. Among
the Republican house candidates who lost were Republican National Committeewoman Holly Hughes and onetime Pat Buchanan campaign operative Tom McMillin. In a closely watched race for an open state house seat in Oakland County, the easy winner was conservative Republican Paul Welday, longtime top aide to Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R.-Mich.). There is already talk of Welday’s taking on Democrat Gary Peters, who unseated eight-termer Knollenberg on Tuesday.
Missouri: A Kinder GOP
Although apparently John McCain ended up carrying Missouri, Democrats won the governorship and almost all of the statewide offices. With Republican Gov. Matthew Blunt retiring, Democratic State Atty. Gen. Jay Nixon won the statehouse by easily defeating (58 percent-40 percent) GOP Rep. Kenny Hulshof. Democrats also won the offices of state treasurer, attorney general, and secretary of state.
The lone Republican survivor statewide was Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who was re-elected with about a 2 percent margin over State Rep. Sam Page. The conservative Kinder ran radio spots underscoring Page’s missing 284 votes in the legislature, including a nurse “Paging Dr. Page” and noting his absences. The 54-year-old Kinder is considered a likely Republican contender for governor in four years or for the U.S. Senate if four-term Republican Kit Bond retires in 2010.
Show-Me State Republicans held onto control of the state senate and state house. With house speaker Rod Jetton termed out of his leadership position, fellow conservative Ron Richard of Joplin is considered his likely successor.
New York: Control Won After 44 Years
For the first time since 1964, Democrats in New York won control of both the state assembly and state senate. The hefty Democratic majority in the assembly (108 to 42) remained, and, in the 62-seat senate, Democrats won the three seats needed to give them a majority.
On Long Island, Democrat Brian X. Foley toppled 82-year-old Republican State Sen. Caesar Trunzo, who has held his seat since 1972. But State Sen. Serph Maltese, one of the early leaders of the Conservative Party and now a registered Republican, lost his Ridgewood-Queens district. Maltese was beaten in a hard-fought contest against City Councilman Joseph Addabo, Jr., namesake-son of the late U.S. House member (1960-86).
Should Democratic Gov. David Paterson win a full term in 2010 and Democrats dominate the reapportionment process, Republicans are likely to have a difficult time retaining their two remaining U.S. House seats in the Empire State.
Ohio: Law and Order
In a very closely watched race in Ohio, Democrats held onto the vacant office of state attorney general. With the exit of scandal-tarred Democratic incumbent Marc Dann, arch-liberal Democratic State Treasurer Richard Cordray won the post over former U.S. Attorney Michael Crites.
Democrats also gained seven seats in the state house of representatives, taking control for the first time since 1994. If Republicans were cheered by anything last week, it was the report that former Rep. (1980-2000) John Kasich would soon begin exploratory efforts toward a challenge to Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland in 2010.
Wisconsin: It’s Still Taxes, Darling
Although Wisconsin went strongly for Barack Obama last week, Republicans had at least one result to cheer about. In what was easily the most-watched state legislative contest in the Badger State, conservative State Sen. Alberta Darling was re-elected to her suburban Milwaukee seat. The 64-year-old Darling defeated well-funded Democratic State Rep. Sheldon Wasserman 52 percent to 48 percent. Although the two differed sharply on such issues as abortion and gay marriage, the campaign was dominated by Wasserman’s signing the Americans for Tax Reform pledge never to vote for a tax increase or any new taxes and then breaking it. Last year, Wasserman did vote for an increase in the cigarette tax — prompting denunciations from Darling and from ATR. In the end, her supporters say, Darling’s emphasis on her no-tax record and Wasserman’s breaking the ATR pledge were pivotal to Darling’s re-election.