Analysis: GOP gains reach to statehouses

By AL SWANSON  |  Nov. 7, 2002 at 4:24 PM
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The Republican political juggernaut that rolled over national Democrats after the polls closed on Tuesday also washed over at least five state legislatures, giving the GOP control of at least 21 of the 50 statehouses.

Because of term limits and redistricting, more than 84 percent of state legislative seats nationwide were up for grabs, a record for a midterm election.

Republicans won a net gain of about 200 legislative seats and will hold a majority of these seats for the first time since Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was president (1953-1961).

The GOP will control the Texas and South Carolina legislatures for the first time in 130 years and both chambers of the Missouri Legislature for the first time since 1948.

The GOP took control of at least five state legislatures, according to the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures. Party control shifted in the Illinois Senate, Texas House, Arizona Senate, Colorado Senate, Missouri House and the Vermont House.

Historically, the party of the sitting president loses statehouse seats as well as congressional seats in off-presidential year elections -- but 2002 was an exception.

The GOP won a majority in 21 legislatures, up from 17, while Democrats will control 18 legislatures.

Nine states have divided legislatures.

"Republicans could end up with a majority of all seats for the first time since 1954," said NCSL elections expert Tim Storey.

Wisconsin's incoming Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle will have to deal with a Republican legislature and a projected $3.5 billion state budget deficit.

Republicans also will hold 33 seats in Nebraska's non-partisan 49-member one-chamber Legislature, the most seats held by a single party in 24 years.

California and Illinois bucked the GOP trend, putting Democrats firmly in charge of their state governments. While California's Democratic Gov. Gray Davis narrowly won re-election, Golden State Republicans lost every statewide office -- including insurance commission.

Democrats retained control of the California Legislature. Republicans gained two Assembly seats but voters elected the first two openly gay men -- San Francisco Supervisor Mark Leno and former Santa Cruz Mayor John Laird.

Illinois will be a Democratic bastion from Chicago to Springfield for the time in 26 years. Democrats won the governor's mansion for first time since 1977 and captured the state Senate after a decade in the minority.

Incumbent state Treasurer Judy Barr Topinka was the only Republican to win statewide office and like those of many states, Illinois' books don't look too good. Governor-elect Rod Blagojevich will face a $2 billion state budget deficit when he takes office in January and may have borrow or raise taxes, but a Democrat-controlled statehouse may give Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley the land-based casino he covets.

Eight states will have split party control. The Indiana House and the North Carolina House were nearly evenly divided after Republican gains in the previously Democratic-dominated chambers.

In Indiana, Democrat David Orenticher claimed victory over Republican state Rep. Jim Atterhold by 37 votes for a seat that could determine control of Indiana's 100-member House. Recounts were likely in as many as four races.

The North Carolina House was split 60-60 but Democratic House Speaker Jim Black said he had commitments to be re-elected speaker when the General Assembly meets Jan. 29.

The results of some legislative races in parts of Alaska may not be known for two weeks because of uncounted absentee ballots.

The Anchorage Daily News said officials won't tally the more than 25,500 absentee and question ballots, some mailed and some faxed, until Nov. 19. The ballots must be postmarked Nov. 5 but have until Nov. 15 to arrive.

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