Flipping the U.S. House was a major prize for Democrats on Nov. 6, but in terms of long-term impact on party health, progressive policy, and more, Team Blue’s success at the state level cannot be overlooked. By flipping key state legislatures and governorships, passing game-changing ballot measures, and stripping Republicans of total government control in key swing states, Democrats are rebuilding real power at all levels of the ballot.
Democrats flipped over 350 statehouse seats last night, but that number doesn't actually matter. Here are the numbers that do:
Democrats flipped six legislative chambers:
- Colorado Senate
- Maine Senate
- Minnesota House
- New Hampshire House
- New Hampshire Senate
- New York Senate
Republicans, on the other hand, might not have flipped a single chamber. Democrats entered the election with a majority coalition in the Alaska House, and we won’t know if that holds or not until the parties have their leadership elections in a few days.
Democrats won three new supermajorities by picking up seats in the Nevada Assembly, the Oregon House, and the Oregon Senate.
Democrats stripped Republicans of supermajorities in four chambers:
- Michigan Senate
- North Carolina House
- North Carolina Senate
- Pennsylvania Senate
Of these, North Carolina is the real game-changer. With GOP supermajorities broken, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper will be able to veto the GOP-controlled legislature's terrible bills without Republicans basically saying "Oh, how adorable" and just overriding him.
The Pennsylvania Senate Republicans’ loss of their supermajority is significant, too. Early this year, the House had threatened to impeach the state Supreme Court justices who had overturned their congressional gerrymander. Articles of impeachment need only a majority to pass the lower chamber, but actually impeaching and removing justices requires a supermajority in the Senate—which Republicans most definitely were in possession of at the time this drama unfolded. Republicans ultimately backed off their attempt to usurp the court, but the existential threat to Democratic justices remained. Now, though, with the GOP’s loss of at least five Senate seats, the independence of the state’s highest court is quite a bit more secure.
Speaking of state supreme courts, Democrats flipped a seat on the bench of North Carolina’s highest court, too. Because of Anita Earls’ victory, progressives will now have a majority on the North Carolina Supreme Court until at least 2022.
Additionally, voters rejected two deceptively written GOP-authored constitutional amendments intended as end-runs around state court decisions invalidating laws closely resembling those amendments. One would have let them pack the state Supreme Court. The other would have usurped Cooper's power to appoint members of the state Board of Elections, something Republicans have been trying to do since he took office in their quest to prevent Democrats from expanding early voting or otherwise exercise authority over election administration. (Unfortunately, North Carolina voters did pass a voter ID amendment.)
One of the biggest impacts the election had on Democratic power was giving the party trifecta control of six new states, bringing the total number of Democratic trifectas to 14. The new trifectas are:
- New Mexico
- New York
Republicans, on the other hand, might not have picked up a single new trifecta. (See above note about the Alaska House.)
Democrats also broke Republican trifectas in several states last night. States with previously unified GOP control that lost it via chamber or gubernatorial flip are:
- New Hampshire
While some results are still outstanding as of this writing, and other races are expected to go to recounts, we know that Democrats picked up seats in a number of heavily Republican states, including some of the most heinously gerrymandered chambers.
- In Texas, Democrats flipped at least 12 House seats and two Senate seats.
- In Pennsylvania, Democrats flipped at least 16 House seats and five Senate seats.
- In Florida, Democrats flipped seven House seats and one Senate seat.
- In Michigan, Democrats flipped five House seats and five Senate seats.
- In Iowa, Democrats flipped five House seats.
- In West Virginia, Democrats flipped five House seats and two Senate seats.
Democrats picked up other key state offices last night, too.
Four states will replace GOP attorneys general with Democrats:
- Phil Weiser in Colorado
- Dana Nessel in Michigan
- Aaron Ford in Nevada
- Josh Kaul in Wisconsin
The power vested in the office of the attorney general is significant, and placing it in the hands of Democrats is a massive win for progressives. Weiser, Nessel, Ford, and Kaul will be in positions to help check GOP abuses of power at every level of government—including fighting the Trump administration in court—and they’ll have crucial roles in the fight to protect civil rights and access to affordable health care.
In two states, Democrats flipped secretary of state offices:
- Jena Griswold in Colorado
- Jocelyn Benson in Michigan
These new secretaries of state will be able to improve voting in myriad ways: fighting to stem the tide of dark money; implementing automatic voter registration; improving election security; and increasing turnout among voters of color and other communities often underrepresented at the ballot box.
Progressives also enjoyed big wins for voting rights in Florida and Michigan with the passage of key ballot measures.
Florida's Amendment 4 will end the racist practice of disenfranchising those with past felony convictions in that state and restore the voting rights of more than 1.4 million residents.
Michigan's Proposition 2 will reform the state’s partisan redistricting process with an independent commission and transparent standards, and Proposition 3 will dramatically expand and protect voting rights in Michigan.
That’s a lot of new power for Democrats in states, and a lot of success for ballot measures that eat away at the structural disadvantages Republicans have implemented and profited from at the state level for years.
But as satisfying as these wins and gains are, Democrats can’t rest on their laurels and savor them. Because election season in Virginia just kicked off, and Democrats have two more chambers to flip in 2019.