Voters Shuffle Deck of State Legislatures; Both Parties Claim Gains

November 5, 2008

Voters on Tuesday left their mark on the state political landscape, shifting the partisan control of state government in a dozen states.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Democrats gained control of both houses in four state legislatures–Delaware, Nevada, New York and Wisconsin. Republicans gained two Southern legislatures, Oklahoma and Tennessee, for the first time. And women made history in New Hampshire.

NCSL Partisan Overview

Voters reversed a trend in recent elections and have left the state political map with the fewest number of politically divided legislatures since 1982. Only seven states have split legislative control: Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Democrats control 27 state legislatures, and Republicans have 14. At the time of this release, Montana is undecided because control in the House remains up in the air. Nebraska’s Legislature is nonpartisan and unicameral.

Factoring in the results of the 11 governor races held this year, Democrats control all of state government in 17 states, Republicans have eight and 24 states have divided government. Missouri was the only state where the party of the governor switched from Republican to Democrat.

NCSL elections analyst Tim Storey says when all the votes are counted, Democrats may end up netting a relatively small number of seats, even though they gained control of four legislatures going from 23 before the election to 27.

“Obama’s coattails definitely helped Democrats win legislatures in the presidential battleground states of Nevada, Wisconsin and Ohio,” said Storey. “Biden’s place on the Democratic ticket certainly helped take the Delaware House. Republicans did well in a couple of states where McCain ran strong–Oklahoma and Tennessee. In 12 of the past 18 presidential elections, the party winning the White House also picked up seats in legislatures.”

Legislative Chambers

Both political parties emerged with some bragging rights. For Democrats, the big prize was taking control of the New York Senate for the first time since 1966. The party already controlled the House and the governor’s office. This is the first time Democrats control all of New York government since 1935. Democrats won the Delaware House for the first time since 1984. With this shift, it means Democrats now control every legislative chamber north of Virginia, except for the Pennsylvania Senate. The party also took control of the Ohio House, Wisconsin Assembly, Nevada Senate and earned a tie in the previously Republican-controlled Alaska Senate. Democrats now control a total of 60 legislatures, Republicans control 36. The Alaska Senate is the only chamber that is still tied, and the Montana House is undecided at this time.

The GOP gained seats in the South, scoring historic wins in Tennessee and Oklahoma. Those two legislatures are in complete Republican control for the first time in history. In both states, voters switched previously tied Senate chambers. In the biggest surprise of this election cycle, Republicans seized the Democratically controlled Tennessee House. They also won back the Montana Senate, which had gone to the Democrats in 2004.

In addition to monitoring the final outcome of the Montana House, NCSL will closely track recounts and provisional ballots that could change the preliminary tally for the Texas House, where Republicans are holding on to a slim 76-74 margin.

Other Notable results

* New Hampshire voters made history Tuesday by giving women a majority in the state Senate. Women now hold 13 out of the 24 seats. It is the first time a state legislative chamber is composed of more women than men.

* Barack Obama is the first former member of NCSL to become president of the United States.

* Two House speakers and two Senate leaders suffered surprise losses in their re-election bids last night. They are Delaware Speaker Terry Spence (R), Utah Speaker of the House Greg Curtis (R), Iowa Senate President Pro Tem Jeff Danielson (D) and Rhode Island Senate President Joseph Montalbano (D). NCSL Immediate Past President Donna Stone was defeated in her re-election bid, a victim of the Democratic sweep in Delaware.

NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staff of the states, commonwealths and territories.

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures

Topics New York Oklahoma Ohio Wisconsin Tennessee Nevada Alaska Delaware

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.