- Republicans held off Democrats in Virginia's Senate races and pulled off an upset win in Kentucky's gubernatorial election
- Democrats quietly took control of Pennsylvania's Supreme Court and expanded their control in New Jersey
- Republicans now have a super majority in the Mississippi House and won a proxy war over ballot initiative 42
While most eyes are on the 2016 elections which are now less than a year away, several states elected new leaders in 2015. Headlines last week focused on the Republican victories in the Kentucky Governor's race, the holding of the Virginia State Senate, and in a couple of ballot initiatives, but there were several places where Democrats had good nights as well. A quick roundup and what it means for the business community in different states:
The headlines here focused on Republicans holding the State Senate which was an impressive feat considering Democrats needed only one victory to take control. Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe raised and spent tens of millions of dollars to support the effort and Democrats had five or six seats where they felt like they had a real opportunity to win. But on election night, Republicans won every single seat. While this leaves the State Senate in GOP hands, it really doesn't change the dynamic of power in Richmond. Republicans already held commanding control of the State House and the Senate has been so evenly divided that most things that passed needed some bipartisan support anyway. So while McAuliffe would have liked to win a seat and take control of the Senate, it still would have been very evenly divided and he still would need to work with the heavily Republican House. A big victory for Republicans, but not any change in how the state capitol will operate in the final two years of McAuliffe's administration.
Republican businessman Matt Bevin upset Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway in the Gubernatorial race and will become only the second Republican Governor in the last fifty years. While Kentucky has been reliably Republican at the federal level for years, it has consistently elected Democrats to statewide offices. Less discussed is how the GOP furthered its diversity efforts by electing the state's first African American woman as Lt. Governor. True to form though, Democrats held the other two top statewide posts, electing Andy Beshear as Attorney General and reelecting Alison Lundergan Grimes as Secretary of State. It is clear the Bluegrass State is transitioning to Republican control at the state level as well. While Democrats won the AG and SOS races, they did so with only 51% and 50% of the vote respectively while losing the Auditor, Agricultural Commissioner and Treasurer races in addition to the Governorship.
One of the bright spots for Democrats, they added four seats to their already substantial majority in the State Legislature, giving Gov. Chris Christie (R) an even steeper climb to get things accomplished during the final two years of his term. In a concerning sign of voter participation, registered voter turnout dropped to less than 21%, the lowest level ever recorded in the state, even lower than the 24% Special Election turnout that elected U.S. Senator Cory Booker, the previous lowest turnout, and down from 27% that turned out in 2011 for comparable legislative elections.
While there were no legislative or executive elections in Pennsylvania, Democrats are very excited about picking up control of the State Supreme Court. The court had been narrowly held by Republicans with two vacancies and after the vote last week, the Court is now 5-2 Democratic (Pennsylvania is one of the few states where judges are elected under a partisan banner). A handful of County Courts also switched control between the parties with the Republicans picking up four that had been in Democratic control and Democrats winning four others that had been held by Republicans. With frequent stalemates between the GOP legislature and the Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, the courts will frequently be called on to resolve questions when such impasses arise.
The Magnolia State reaffirmed its reputation as one of the most reliably Republican in the country giving landslide victories to Governor Phil Bryant (R) and Lt. Governor Tate Reeves (R). Democrats did narrowly hold their single statewide office with the reelection of Jim Hood as Attorney General. Partisan forces also ended up playing a major role in Initiative 42, a ballot initiative that would have changed the mechanism for public school funding in the state. With Democrats generally favoring the initiative and Republicans generally opposed, the initiative failed 54-46. Additionally, Republicans added to their already substantial majorities in the state legislature, picking up six seats including knocking off the Democratic House Minority Leader. An additional party switcher two days later provided Republicans a super majority in the legislature for the first time.