Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Now What? edition


That certainly wasn’t the election night Democrats were hoping for.

I mean sure, Donald Trump is on track to lose to Joe Biden. Which is good.

But down-ballot races were … more than disappointing.

Because Democrats at every level of government will suffer the consequences of GOP success at the ballot box in a year that ends in zero for the next decade.

As an erudite reader of this missive, I know you understand that state legislative politics and elections aren’t as tidy and straightforward as their federal counterpart.

So let’s discuss what happened on Tuesday and what it means for [[waves hands]] everything.

While results in some statehouses are still shaking out (yeah, I’m looking at you, Arizona), we already know that Republicans successfully defended their majorities in several key chambers.


  • Iowa House
  • Michigan House
  • Minnesota Senate (not set in stone yet but looks likely Dems netted only one seat here)
  • North Carolina House
  • North Carolina Senate
  • Pennsylvania House (also not set in stone but not looking great)
  • Texas House 

So what happened?

  • Did disaffected Republicans take their ire at Trump out at the top of their ballots and then ticket-split to support GOPers further down?
  • Should Democrats have worked harder to tie down-ballot Republicans to Trump?
  • Were resources allocated poorly?

I could drop a hot take here, but I respect you too much for that.

The truth is that we just don’t know yet.

All of these things could be true. None of them could be true.

But here are two things that are 100% true:

  • Democrats were vying to flip districts specifically gerrymandered to elect Republicans.
  • While the disparity wasn’t as severe as in cycles past, Republicans out-raised Democrats and outspent them in several key chambers.

But let’s face it: Even if Democrats flip one or both chambers in Arizona, Election Day 2020 was a disappointment.

Ya know what? I’ll take disappointment over a bloodbath.

Here’s a little perspective.

  • Election Day 2010 replaced Election Day 2000 as the most excruciating of my life, and even 2016 wasn’t savage enough to supplant it.
  • And 2020 certainly wasn’t.

It’s an oft-forgotten fact that Democrats appeared to be sitting pretty before the 2010 elections.

  • They held majorities in 60 chambers.
    • Republicans held just 36, and two were tied.
  • But many of those majorities were extremely small.
    • Dems held several chambers by just a couple of seats.

But then the party collectively seemed to forget that redistricting was going to be happening in 2011.

  • Republicans, as we know, very much did not forget, and they outspent Democrats three-to-one to target a handful of flippable seats in key chambers in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, and more.
    • … lots more.
  • Republicans flipped 21 chambers in 2010.
  • In 2020, they flipped … three.

Don’t get me wrong: A GOP trifecta in New Hampshire is a Bad Thing.

  • And this means Republicans get to re-gerrymander that state Senate (and the House, but with 400 seats, that chamber is always a bit of a crapshoot, honestly).
  • But federally, this gives the GOP complete control over drawing a whole two congressional districts.

The bad news from Election 2020 isn’t what Republicans won.

It’s what Republicans successfully defended.

  • I wrote previously in this space about how the next round of redistricting could shake out for Democrats, depending on the level of success they had in flipping GOP-held chambers this week.
    • Before Nov. 3, Republicans had complete control over the drawing of anywhere from 37% to 45% of all congressional districts nationwide.
      • Democrats would control the drawing of just 10% to 11%.
        • The remaining districts would be drawn via redistricting commissions (with varying degrees of independence), compromises reached in states with divided governments, and/or the courts (when some of those divided governments inevitably deadlock).
    • Sure, this three- or four-to-one advantage would have been lousy—but not as bad as it was in 2011, when Republicans had a better than five-to-one advantage in drawing congressional districts.

Okay, fast forward to, like, now.

Let's talk about how the situation has changed.

… and no, it’s not good.

We’re not even talking pre-election status quo here.

Things definitely got worse for Democrats in the next round of redistricting.

Which means winning a majority in the U.S. House is going to be even harder for Democrats over the course of the next decade.

  • Tuesday saw the GOP's redistricting edge expand from three- or four-to-one to potentially four- or five-to-one.

Yes, Republicans may end up drawing five times as many districts as Democrats.

Tuesday’s election results create a grave risk of another decade of minority rule by the GOP both in Congress and in statehouses nationwide.

But there’s something else at play in the upcoming round of redistricting that wasn’t a factor in 2011.

  • Back then, many new maps in southern states were subject to the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act.
    • … a requirement the U.S. Supreme Court killed in Shelby County v. Holder back in 2013.
      • This ruling also paved the way for a new wave of voter suppression laws, the repercussions of which we’re still dealing with as I type, as votes are still being counted in places like Georgia and Arizona.

My talented Daily Kos Elections colleagues have assembled a super detailed breakdown of how Tuesday’s results impact the next round of redistricting, but here are the crucial toplines:

  • Why we still care what happens in Arizona even though they have an Independent Redistricting Commission: 
    • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
    • House: Republican? (uncalled)
    • Senate: Republican? (uncalled)
      • Arizona has had an independent redistricting commission in place since 2000, but with the U.S. Supreme Court’s newly conservative configuration, the IRC is at a big of risk of being struck down.
        • Republicans in the legislature have repeatedly sought to undermine the commission, so ending the GOP’s control of state government would help insulate and preserve it.
      • If Democrats are able to flip a legislative chamber, the state’s divided government would sort out the aftermath of a ruling or GOP action against the IRC.
        • Perhaps they’d reach a bipartisan compromise!
          • … more likely, though, is that new maps would be drawn by the courts, which tend to favor nonpartisan districts.
  • Why we care what happens in Michigan even though they have an independent redistricting commission:
    • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
    • House: Republican hold
    • Senate: Republican (up in 2022)
      • In 2018, Michigan voters approved a ballot measure establishing a redistricting commission, stripping the legislature of its power to draw district maps for itself and for the U.S. House.
  • Minnesota:
    • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
    • House: Democratic hold
    • Senate: Republican hold(?—uncalled as of this writing)
      • Democrats appear to have fallen just short in their bid to win trifecta control in Minnesota, though final tallies have yet to be announced.
      • The state currently has nonpartisan maps drawn by a court and is poised to again after 2020.
  • New Hampshire:
  • North Carolina:
    • Governor: Democratic hold (but super irrelevant in this context)
    • House: Republican hold
    • Senate: Republican hold
    • Bonus! Supreme Court: Democratic hold
  • Pennsylvania:
    • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
    • House: Republican (uncalled but likely) hold
    • Senate: Republican (uncalled but likely) hold
  • Texas:
    • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
    • House: Republican hold
    • Senate: Republican hold
      • I mentioned in this space last week that Republicans were pumping tons of late cash into these state House races, and WOW did that effort pay off.
      • Texas is arguably the most important state for Republican congressional gerrymandering, and Democrats failed to make the big gains needed to flip the state House to break the GOP’s trifecta control of the state.
        • But wait, it gets worse!
          • Democrats also failed to lay the groundwork for striking down gerrymanders later this decade after Republicans swept all four seats up this year to maintain their 9-0 state Supreme Court majority.



  • This round of redistricting might not be as bad for Democrats as the last round, but it’s not shaping up to be much better.
    • And depending on SCOTUS interference, it could arguably be worse.

Okay, one more piece of lousy news before I remind you (… and myself) that last night wasn’t a total disaster.

But on to less terrible news!

And while Republican legislators in many states will now have to deal with newly elected QAnon believers in their caucuses, Democrats celebrated a lot of positive firsts.

This list is in no way exhaustive—feel free to hit me up with other cool Democratic state legislative first you know of!

So, after a decade of trying to slog their way back to majorities in legislative chambers designed specifically to preserve GOP control, Democrats came up short in the most consequential election of the decade.

I’ve already discussed why this is bad for redistricting purposes, but it sucks for other important reasons, too.

Such as:

  • Abortion rights are under existential threat by the new 6-3 conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.
    • Without a majority in the U.S. Senate, Democrats won’t be able to rebalance the court to counter the seats stolen by the GOP.
    • If the new SCOTUS erodes or overturns Roe v. Wade, it will fall to states to protect women’s access to full reproductive healthcare and the right to obtain an abortion.
      • Are GOP-controlled legislatures going to safeguard that right?
        • Not bloody likely.

Or try this on for size:

  • Fast forward to late January 2021. Joe Biden has just taken office.
    • Some of his first acts as president involve undoing Trump’s numerous terrible executive orders and replacing those regressive, racist, anti-environmental, anti-equality, etc. measures with his own—many reinstating EOs from the Obama era, others implementing his own forward-looking policies.

But wait!

  • In statehouses across the country, Republican-controlled legislatures are just starting their sessions.
    • And one of their first orders of business is to do everything they can think of to stymie President Biden’s efforts to undo the damage wrought by Trump.
      • They’ll pass laws specifically designed to thwart policies set forth in the EOs.
      • They’ll command their state attorneys general to sue the Biden administration over policies they don’t like.
      • They’ll blame him for governing challenges resulting from their own or Trump’s mismanagement of everything from the coronavirus pandemic to state budgets.
        • And then of course they’ll also draw legislative districts that preserve their own majorities and congressional districts that erode Democratic power.

I have one wish for an incoming Biden administration:

Don’t make Obama’s mistake of neglecting state legislative politics and elections.

The cost to Biden’s own policy priorities would be high.

The cost to the future of Biden’s party is much, much higher.

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