Election brings new GOP power to state Capitols

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State capitols across the country will be more Republican than at any point since the Roaring ’20s when victorious legislators and governors take office next year. That could result in lower taxes and perhaps fewer dollars flowing to social safety net programs.

A day after a big election, newly emboldened Republican state leaders already were making plans Wednesday to pursue deeper tax cuts, relax business regulations, expand private school vouchers and impose new limits on public welfare programs.

In some states, such as Kansas, Republicans will be able to do as they want, because they control both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office. In others, such as neighboring Missouri, the Republicans’ legislative supermajorities will be so large that they can essentially disregard the objections of a Democratic governor. Elsewhere, like in New York, the Republican takeover of one legislative chamber simply means a stronger say in a state still otherwise led by Democrats.

Nowhere in the entire nation did Democrats take over a legislative chamber previously held by Republicans. And Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett was the only Republican chief executive to fall to a Democratic challenger.

For statehouse Republicans, “it’s their strongest position in nearly a century,” said Tim Storey, an analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Republicans will have full control of at least 29 state legislatures, according to the conference, the party’s largest total since 1928, perhaps earlier. The GOP will hold at least 32 governorships, including newly won offices in traditionally Democratic Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts.

In many cases, the Republican victories expanded majorities won in previous elections, such as the 2010 GOP sweep. Over the past several years, Republicans already have used those majorities to cut taxes, restrict abortions, expand gun rights and limit the powers of public employee unions.

Those all remain high on the Republican agenda.

“We’re going to focus on legislation that helps small businesses, whether that’s taxes, labor or the regulatory environment,” said Missouri House Speaker-nominee John Diehl, whose Republican caucus now holds its highest-ever number of seats.

The challenge for Republicans may be to constrain their enthusiasm, lest they go further than some voters had anticipated and complicate their chances of re-election in the future.

After large GOP majorities in Kansas enacted widespread income tax cuts in recent years, the resulting budget difficulties turned Tuesday’s election into a referendum on Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s financial policies. He narrowly won, as Republicans added to their ranks in the House.

Brownback acknowledged at a victory party that “it’s a difficult time for many Kansas families” and “jobs are scarce,” but he pledged to keep the state on the route he had charted.

“Our way is holding down taxes, holding down regulations, controlling spending,” Brownback said.

Republican governors or legislative leaders in Maryland, Maine, New York, Texas and West Virginia also are already talking of tax cuts.

Texas Gov.-elect Greg Abbott has promised to make an expansion of school vouchers and charter schools a priority for his new Republican administration that will be paired with an even larger GOP majority in the House and Senate.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who won re-election along with an expanded GOP legislative majority, also wants to expand enrollment in a private school voucher program. His agenda includes drug tests for people seeking food stamps or unemployment benefits and more tax cuts on top of the $2 billion enacted during his first term.

In Maine, Assistant Republican Senate Leader Roger Katz said that the new GOP-led Senate hopes to team with a Republican governor to implement “sensible” changes to welfare programs, cut government spending, lower taxes and eliminate bureaucracy for businesses.

The Republican victory in Arkansas was the largest since Reconstruction, with GOP candidates sweeping the statewide offices and building upon its legislative majorities. Republicans will have to decide whether to continue a program enacted under Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe that expanded health coverage to more than 200,000 people by using Medicaid money to buy private insurance.

“With these victories by the new Republicans — many of whom have voiced opposition to that — it really puts it in some real danger,” said Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. “The big test initially is what happens to the private option.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.