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This Week in Statehouse Action: Until The End Of The World Edition
Welp, it’s just about that time again.
It’s so close.
Maybe you’re like me, and your stress levels are high (can anxiety cause heartburn? I’m pretty sure it can! Either that or I’m dying!).
Or maybe you’re a Normal Human who’s just living your life (which, hopefully, includes voting).
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Regardless of where folks fall on that spectrum, it seems like everyone has the same question for me:
What will you be watching for on election night?
… which is, like, a pretty validating question when you think about it.
Lots of people in and around journalism and activism watch elections, but mostly what they watch is the federal-level and statewide stuff.
Which are important, too! It’s very good that lots of folks keep tabs on and analyze these races.
But … they’re just not really my thing.
State politics has been my jam for very nearly all of my adult life in one form or another–sometimes professionally, sometimes as an outside-of-my-day-job hobby, but always assiduously.
And on one hand, I can’t wait to get back to writing about the great/awful bills and proposals wending their way through statehouses and holding the folks pushing those measures accountable for the great/awful things they do.
But on the other, there’s an incredibly important election in just a couple of days, and its outcomes will determine who’s pushing which bills where.
Here’s what I’ll be keeping my tired eyeballs on on Tuesday night (and Wednesday, and Thursday, and [[winks at Alaska]] beyond)--and why.
Arizona House, Senate
The prospect of a Kari Lake governorship and the terrifyingly close races that could result in bona fide election deniers as attorney general and secretary of state elevate the already-great importance of Arizona’s legislative races.
So, yes, I’ll be keeping a close eye on both of these chambers.
Team blue needs to flip just two seats (of 60) in the state House to take majority control there, and flipping just one seat in the state Senate would break the Republican majority and tie the chamber 15-15.
But I’ll also be waiting with bated breath to see if Democrat Adrian Fontes defeats Trump-loving, Big Lie-pushing, Jan. 6 insurrection-attending Republican state Rep. Mark Finchem in the secretary of state race.
The attorney general contest has my breath marginally less bated, but it’s still worth keeping an eye on: Democrat (and former Republican) Kris Mayes vs. credential-embellishing Republican Abe Hamadeh.
Pretty shocking, yeah?
It’s a long shot for Republicans, but the state’s redistricting commission appears to have created a new map that favors Republicans.
Of the chamber’s 35 seats, 17 are on the ballot this year, and Republicans need to flip four to win the Senate majority.
A tall order, to be sure, but the money flowing into these contests has been pretty wild–one district alone has drawn more than $4.5 million in total spending.
Democrats’ goal here is to end the GOP supermajority in the chamber.
If Democrats can net a three-seat gain in the state House, they’ll be able to sustain Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s vetoes (providing, of course, that she wins reelection).
Republicans also have a veto-proof majority in the state Senate, but that chamber isn’t up this year.
Maine House, Senate
Maine is home to one of Democrats' few governing trifectas (governorship + state House/Assembly + state Senate) in the country, and Republicans would sure like to take that away.
All 151 seats are up in the Maine House next month, and Republicans need to flip at least seven of them to win the majority back from Democrats.
In the state Senate, Republicans need to flip five seats (of 35) to take majority control of the chamber.
For the GOP to totally reverse that Dem trifecta in the Pine Tree State, Republicans need to flip both legislative chambers and racist retread Paul LePage has to defeat incumbent Gov. Janet Mills on Nov. 8.
Michigan House, Senate, Supreme Court
For the first time in over a decade, Democrats have a fair shot at flipping at least one—possibly even both!—chambers of the GOP-controlled Michigan legislature (thanks entirely to a successful citizen-initiated ballot measure in 2018 that created an independent redistricting commission).
Democrats need to flip just two House seats (of 110) to take control of that chamber, and flipping four state Senate seats (of 38) would give Dems a majority there.
Beyond legislative elections, I’ll be keeping a close eye on
Proposal 3, which would enshrine reproductive freedom in the state constitution.
Proposal 2, also referred to as the “Promote the Vote” amendment that would add a slew of key voting protections to the state constitution, including
Expanding access to early voting, absentee ballots, and ballot drop boxes;
Providing that election audits be conducted in public;
Requiring election results to be certified based on votes cast;
Prohibiting laws, regulations, and practices that interfere with a person’s right to vote; and
Allowing voters to sign an affidavit to attest to their identity when they don't have a photo ID.
Michigan Supreme Court
The court currently has a 4-3 progressive (technically, the election is nonpartisan, but candidates are nominated by their respective parties, so…) majority, and five candidates are vying for two seats.
Kyra Harris Bolden hopes to join incumbent and fellow Democratic judicial candidate Richard Bernstein on the court by defeating incumbent Republican Justice Brian Zahra, GOPer Paul Hudson, and Libertarian Kerry Lee Morgan.
Fun fact! Republican and anti-reproductive freedom Justice Brian Zahra – who voted to block Proposal 3 from getting on the ballot this fall–helped his now ex-wife (then-girlfriend) get an abortion when both were in their 20s, driving her to the clinic and paying for the procedure.
Minnesota House, Senate
If Democrats can hold on to the governorship and the state House in the North Star State, they have a chance to pick up a trifecta here by flipping the state Senate.
Netting two state Senate seats (out of 67) would give Democrats control of that chamber and a shot at full control of state government.
But trifecta control is only possible if Democrats hold on to the House (and governorship, obvs).
The 134-member chamber is currently split 69 D/63 R (plus one independent and one vacancy). Republicans need a net gain of at least four seats to win majority control.
Nevada Assembly, Senate
Democrats have majority control of both the Nevada Assembly and state Senate, but Republicans are working hard to flip at least one of these chambers.
The Silver State is another one of the few in which Democrats have trifecta control of state government, and the GOP is gunning to take that away.
The Nevada Senate is especially vulnerable, since Republicans only need to flip two of the 11 seats on the ballot this November (terms here are staggered–the other 10 members are up in 2024).
The battle for chamber control is a tougher one for the GOP in the Assembly, as they’ll need to flip five of those 42 seats to win the majority.
New Hampshire House, Senate
With all 400 seats on the ballot every two years, predicting majority control of the large and often chaotic state House is a bit of a crapshoot, though parties’ success here generally follows the mood of the statewide electorate.
Democrats need to net 12 seats to tie the chamber, 13 to win the majority.
In the 24-seat Senate, however, Democrats need to flip just two to tie the chamber, three for an outright majority.
… easier said than done, though, after Republicans thoroughly gerrymandered the chamber.
Fun fact! In 2016, NHPR did an analysis demonstrating that, through their control of redistricting, Republicans won roughly 10% more seats than they would have on a fair (“neutral”) map in four of the previous five elections.
(... jic you were wondering what to expect for the coming decade …)
North Carolina House, Senate, Supreme Court
Neither of these chambers are considered majority plays for Democrats; Team Blue’s goal this year is keeping Republicans from winning back their veto-proof majorities.
Republicans need only to flip four House seats and two Senate seats to win veto-proof supermajorities in those chambers.
Since Democrats took the majority on the state’s highest court six years ago, the North Carolina Supreme Court has been a massive pain in the ass of the legislature's GOP majority.
Two of the court’s seven seats–where Democrats have a tiny 4-3 majority–are on the ballot this November.
If Republicans win either of them, the GOP will win control the court and will be the final say on myriad issues including abortion rights, gerrymandering, and voting rights, and much more.
Democratic Justice Sam Ervin is running for reelection. He faces Republican Trey Allen in November.
Democrat Lucy Inman is running against Republican Richard Dietz for an open seat to win an eight-year term on the Court.
Ohio Supreme Court
In 2020, Democrats whittled down the GOP’s majority on the Ohio Supreme Court to 4-3 (following two Democratic pickups in 2018).
Democrat Jennifer Brunner’s win that year prompted Republicans who control the legislature to enact a major change to judicial elections:
Until this year, Ohio used partisan judicial nominations followed by a nonpartisan general election to select its justices (like Michigan).
Now, though, candidates will appear on the ballot with party labels, since Republicans believe Brunner benefitted from not having the word “Democrat” after her name in 2020.
Control of the court hinges on the outcomes of two contests (both for six-year terms):
Pat DeWine (the governor’s son) is facing off against Democrat Marilyn Zayas.
Republican Pat Fischer is running against Terri Jamison.
Should either Democrat win on Nov. 8, control of the court would flip from a 4-3 Republican majority to 4-3 for Dems.
Don’t laugh, I’m dead serious.
The Beaver State is, to the surprise of most, looking like a problem for Democrats on Nov. 8–partially because of outgoing Democratic Gov. Kate Brown’s unpopularity, and partially because of the immense amounts of money flowing into legislative races via the Republican State Leadership Committee and a local conservative billionaire.
In the 30-member Senate, 15 seats are on the ballot, and Republicans need to flip six of them to tie the chamber.
If Oregon sees some kind of bizarre red tsunami on Nov. 8, the state House could theoretically be in play, too.
Republicans need to flip seven of 60 seats to break the Democratic majority and tie the chamber.
Pennsylvania House, Senate
The Keystone State is another where Democrats have non-GOP gerrymandered legislative maps for the first time in over 10 years, though the road to the majority in either chamber is tougher here (it’s fair to expect it to be a two-cycle endeavor).
Democrats need to flip 12 seats (of 203) in the House to win majority control of that chamber.
The Pennsylvania Senate has staggered terms, and half of the upper chamber’s 50 seats are on the ballot in November; Democrats need to flip four of them to win a majority.
Wisconsin Assembly, Senate, attorney general:
While these chambers aren’t majority plays for Democrats, they’re still very much worth watching, because if Democratic Gov. Tony Evers gets reelected, Republicans would sure like to have veto-proof majorities so they can do whatever they want.
In large part because of Republicans’ stranglehold on the state legislature, another contest in the Badger State has outsized importance: the attorney general race.
Obviously reelecting Tony Evers is essential to preventing the GOP from dominating Wisconsin government in perpetuity (opponent Tim Michels has literally admitted that “Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin” if he becomes governor), but the winner of this year’s AG race will have a tremendous amount of influence over when and how to enforce existing statutes and precedent.
… like, say, the state’s 1849 abortion ban.
Current AG Josh Kaul has pledged to not use Wisconsin AG/DOJ resources to enforce the ancient prohibition; Republican Eric Toney is promising to enforce it.
AG Kaul has also filed a lawsuit aimed at striking down the ban; Toney would certainly seek the suit’s dismissal.
Hold on to your butts, we’ve got a bonus state!
Montana (For reals!)
The state Supreme Court battle in Montana is … a special creature.
This race is actually nonpartisan, but Republicans both in and outside of the state are spending heavily to replace incumbent Justice Ingrid Gustafson with GOP attorney James Brown, who vocally supports overturning existing precedent in Montana that abortion rights are protected by the state constitution.
Spending in this contest is “unprecedented”: The RSLC is spending at least $500,000 on ads supporting Brown, and reported outside anti-Gustafson spending is already north of $1 million.
But Montana’s legislature is worth keeping an eyeball on, too.
If Republicans pick up just two more seats (in either chamber!), they’ll have the legislative supermajority (100 out of 150 total House + Senate seats) necessary to amend the state’s constitution.
If 100 Republicans were to approve an amendment eroding or eliminating the constitutional privacy provisions that protect abortion rights here, the amendment would then go before Montana voters for their approval.
No court necessary!
That’s the list.
But no one will have to hunt for those results–these are marquee races, after all.
So this list will be my focus, because these outcomes will impact millions of Americans and every level of government for years–even decades–to come.
Of course, I’ll be following up next week with a breakdown of what happened where and what it all means.
But don’t expect to see that Wednesday morning.
But with 6,278 state legislative elections–races that are regularly decided by fewer than 500 votes–happening in 46 states next week, it’s going to take some time for the dust to settle in the most competitive chambers.
… and that’s notwithstanding legal challenges, recounts, and potential GOP electoral shenanigans.
But the general lay of the land will be resolved by the end of next week, so I’ll definitely be bringing you an update on what we do and don’t know at that point.
Until then, take deep breaths, your vitamins, and care of yourself.
Put your Pride (In The Name Of Love) to the side, take One moment to enjoy a Beautiful Day, Walk On at any Elevation, or do anything else you Desire—everyone copes in their own Mysterious Ways, after all.
(Also, obvs, All I Want Is You to VOTE, if you haven’t already!)
And no matter what happens on Tuesday, we can’t afford to become Numb.
We need you.
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