A Republican picked up the governor’s mansion in Nevada and plans to focus on schools
by Jimmy Vielkind and Jon Kamp, The Wall Street Journal, November 25, 2022
After wins in this year’s elections, Democrats say they hope to use newfound power in Midwestern states to pass legislation aimed at protecting abortion access and enacting new gun-control measures, while the incoming Republican governor in Nevada seeks to expand school choice.
The two parties are building out their agendas in the midst of a reshuffling of power in several states. Democrats flipped the state Senate in Minnesota and both legislative chambers in Michigan, meaning members of the party will have full control of government because the states have Democratic governors. Democrats won control of the Pennsylvania House, further dividing government in that state, while gaining control of the governorships in Arizona, Maryland and Massachusetts.
Republicans next year will hold the governorship in 26 states compared with 24 states for Democrats. More than half the nation’s population will live in states with Democratic governors, said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, chair of the Democratic Governors Association. Before the elections, there were 28 Republican governors and 22 Democrats in office. There have been more Republican governors since 2011, and the number of Democratic governors was 16 as recently as 2018, according to the National Governors Association.
Recent wins helped Democrats chip away at Republicans’ significant advantage—which the GOP retains—when it comes to control over state government around the U.S. The GOP this year flipped one governorship, in Nevada, breaking up Democrats’ grip on a state where that party maintained control of both legislative chambers.
Heading into the 2024 elections, Democrats said they hope these incremental gains will help them push policies that will become harder to achieve in Washington. After the midterm elections, Republicans are set to take control of the House of Representatives, dividing power at the federal level. State-level Democrats are aiming to pass measures on such polarizing topics as abortion, which faced obstacles under divided state governments.
“You’ll also see us focus on things that have been ignored over the last few years or have been under attack,” said Winnie Brinks, the incoming majority leader of Michigan’s state Senate.
Voters there re-elected Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, and approved a ballot measure that enshrined reproductive rights in the state constitution. Democrats will have full control of Michigan’s state government for the first time since 1984.
Legislative leaders said they plan to repeal a largely dormant 1931 state abortion ban and add protections for LGBT people to the state’s civil-rights law. Other priorities include boosting infrastructure spending and passing new legislation regarding storage requirements for firearms, Ms. Brinks said.
Groups backing Democrats spent more money on state legislative races this cycle than those boosting the Republicans. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee spent $50 million on races compared with $30 million for the Republican State Leadership Committee, spokespersons said. A Democratic group known as the States Project spent another $60 million, according to Daniel Squadron, a founding partner of the organization and a former New York legislator.
Republicans still hold a significant lead in veto-proof majorities, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This lead significantly limits Democrats’ ability to influence legislation in such states as Florida and Ohio.
“Republicans defied the odds on Tuesday night by facing down an onslaught in national liberal spending and an incredibly challenging political environment to still preserve their hold on an overwhelming majority of state legislatures throughout the country,” Republican State Leadership Committee President Dee Duncan wrote in a postelection memo.
Minnesota Democrats plan to pass a bill that would put access to abortions into statute, solidifying access currently protected by a state Supreme Court decision, said Melissa Hortman, the current house speaker and member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. She said other priorities include enacting a paid family-leave measure and new gun legislation, while noting previously failed efforts to pass a red-flag law. Such a measure generally allows authorities to remove guns temporarily from people threatening violence.
“The trifecta is a total game-changer for the people of Minnesota,” Ms. Hortman said regarding the party’s control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office.
Trying to improve the student-to-counselor ratio in schools and broaden children’s access to mental-health services are also priorities, said incoming Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic. With a slim, one-vote majority in the Senate, Democrats will have little margin for error. They will need to work on getting details right before determining what potential bills might look like on such matters as firearms legislation, Ms. Dziedzic said.
For Republicans, improving school grades and public safety and lowering tax bills for families are all goals, said Republican Sen. Mark Johnson, who is shifting to the role of minority leader after leading the GOP majority. “I hope that’s the same priorities that the Democrats have.”
Republicans broke a Democratic trifecta in Nevada when Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo defeated Gov. Steve Sisolak—the only incumbent governor to lose re-election this year. In a victory speech last week, Mr. Lombardo promised to expand school choice, increase public safety and reopen government offices that were closed during the pandemic.
“I will insist on meeting on common ground, armed with new ideas and driven by discipline to succeed,” Mr. Lombardo said. A campaign spokesperson didn’t return messages seeking comment.
Steve Yeager, the top Democrat in the Nevada Assembly, said in an interview, “People in Nevada want solutions to these problems, and I’m hopeful we can work together.”