WASHINGTON-Democrats have controlled Alabama's legislature since Reconstruction-Tuesday night, the Republicans took over.
Less noticed than the races to control Congress, the state legislature races yielded whopping gains for Republicans: at least 680 seats. The last time a party came close to approaching that number of pick-ups was in 1974, when Democrats captured 628 seats.
"It's the magnitude that has us surprised," said Tim Storey, an elections expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures, in comments on its website. "Everyone knew this was going to be a very challenging environment for Democrats . . . but what really turned it into a landslide was this enthusiasm on the GOP side."
The timing is what makes these wins so important. With the once-a-decade census just completed, most state legislatures will be overseeing redistricting. In 16 states, Republicans have the "redistricting trifecta": control of the House, Senate, and governorship. With their party now in the majority of both the House and Senate in 26 states, Republicans will be overseeing more than half of redistricting in the country. And the GOP has control in the states projected to change the most seats after the census: Texas, Florida, and Ohio. The redrawn districts could ensure more Republican victories for the next decade.
The shift in southern legislatures over the last 20 years has been remarkable. In 1990, Republicans didn't control a single chamber in the South-now they control 18.
North Carolina, for example, has some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country. Democrats have held power in the legislature for over a century, but Republicans just swept up both chambers. North Carolina's Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue cannot veto their redrawn maps, so the newly empowered GOP is poised to make the purple state a shade redder.
Republicans there have said that instead of drawing the districts in their favor, they will be undoing the wild gerrymandering. "I actually feel some pressure to look at the citizens of North Carolina in the eye and not be guilty of the same gerrymandering that we've had for the last century," current House Minority Whip Thom Tillis, who will be seeking the speakership, told the Associated Press. Six states have nonpartisan commissions that oversee redistricting.
Overall, Republicans won control of 19 state chambers. Control flipped from Democrats to Republicans in the Alabama House and Senate, the Indiana House, the Iowa House, the Maine House and Senate, the Michigan House, the Minnesota House and Senate, the Montana House, the New Hampshire House and Senate, the North Carolina House and Senate, the Ohio House, the Pennsylvania House, and the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate.