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Republicans Gain Seats In State Legislatures, Governors Mansions


Let's look beyond the change in power in Washington to the nation's statehouses. Republicans also made huge gains there, and that's significant for a number of reasons we are going to discuss with NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea, who is in our studios. Don, good morning.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So how big were the GOP gains across the country?

GONYEA: Well, for the Republicans, they are in their best position in the states in a century. For Democrats, they're in their worst position since something called the Civil War.


GONYEA: So Republicans were defending a lot of turf with governors, right? They were expected to lose some ground there overall. Because they were defending so much turf, they gained. They picked up three more seats on Tuesday. More dramatic, though - the numbers for the state legislative offices. Obviously, there are lots and lots and lots of them around the country. But it appears - we've got some recounts and some close ones still going - but it appears Republicans have picked up between 350 and 375 seats around the country.

INSKEEP: Wow, so we're talking about legislative changes, governors' changes - New York and California still in Democratic control, many of the states in between in Republican control. What are the policy implications of having so many Republicans in charge so many places?

GONYEA: In 23 states now we have - the Republicans control the governorship, the Senate and the House or the assembly. So total control - all levers of government in 23 states. Democrats can only say that about seven states.


GONYEA: OK, so that's a big difference. The rest are divided. But you look at tax policy, you look at education, you look at the push toward small government. You look things like gun laws, firearms laws - firearms restrictions may be being rolled back. It'll also come into play in issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. Look, everybody looks at Congress as nothing but gridlock and dysfunction, and we've all talked about that story so much, right? Pick a state. Pick one of these states where one party - in this case mostly the Republicans - controls everything, and they really do feel like they can get stuff done.

INSKEEP: They can actually pass legislation. Does that explain why people spend so many millions of dollars on these state legislative and governors' races this year?

GONYEA: It's kind of astounding, isn't it? Million-dollar state legislative races. This is just in a small, small place. But here's an example - say you're an outside group, and you have been frustrated. You help a member of Congress get elected. They get to Washington - they can't do anything - they can't do anything for you. But you look at a state where you've got a governor who you see is on your side, but if only he or she had a friendly state House and state Senate. Think of what they could do, you know? And think of what they could do for you as that outside group. And you can spend money and help flip those chambers. And suddenly you see the states as a place that are a very, very worthy investment.

INSKEEP: Can these state Republican lawmakers and governors do more to shape the future of the Republican Party than Republicans in Congress can?

GONYEA: Well, here is - there is the really important part of this I think. This is the feeder system for higher office, right? Let's look around the map from Tuesday. U.S. Senator-elect Joni Ernst in Iowa - make them squeal, right? Well, she is a sitting state Senator. In Colorado, Cory Gardner - the U.S. senator-elect to congressman. But just four years ago, he was in the Colorado statehouse. In Michigan, Gary Peters, senator-elect - of course, you know, he did terms in Congress, but he started in the legislature. Remember a guy named state Senator Barack Obama? So this is the farm system.

Also, it's worth noting governorships. Republicans like to nominate governors for president. Bush, Reagan Romney - some of them make it; some of them don't. This is also the feeder system for members of the tickets - Susana Martinez, Brian Sandoval. Watch all of this.

INSKEEP: OK, Don. Thanks very much.

GONYEA: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Don Gonyea. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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