Republicans largely retained their grip over state legislative chambers and governorships in Tuesday’s elections.
The Republican takeover of the presidency may have been the biggest election news, but political experts expect states to continue to take the lead on policymaking in the years ahead.
“Despite total Republican control in Washington now, states are where the action is—and will be—for public policy that actually impacts people,” said Dan Diorio, a policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
As of noon Wednesday, with a few results still not confirmed, Republicans have control of 66 of the nation’s 98 statehouse chambers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This does not include Nebraska, which has a nonpartisan legislature.
Before Tuesday’s election, Republicans held 68 of the nation’s statehouse chambers.
Republicans now control both legislative chambers in 32 states, compared to 13 for Democrats.
The GOP also increased its majority of governorships from 31 to 33.
In the most high-profile of the 12 states voting for their chief executive, Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper declared victory over incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in North Carolina.
But Republican governors won in Missouri and Vermont in races that had been considered toss-ups.
And Republicans increased the number of states in which they hold what is known as a “political trifecta”—with one party in control of both legislative chambers and the governorship.
Republicans increased the number of states they fully control from 22 to 24. Democrats have total control of six states.
Combined, the results in the states did not dramatically alter the GOP wave of success that followed Republicans’ redrawing legislative districts in 2010.
Republicans were mostly playing defense in the 2016 elections, since most of the state legislature seats being defended by Democrats were safely blue.
“Democrats were poised to make gains due to the natural return of the pendulum to the other side,” said Tim Storey, the director of state services at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “But they did not make huge gains and Republicans got a couple of [new] chambers. So Republicans remain in a dominant position.”
During President Barack Obama’s presidency, Republican politicians have not been shy about enacting their agenda in states.
More than 900 state legislative seats have switched hands from Democrats to Republicans since Obama took office.
“Republicans have taken full advantage of their position in the states, including implementing tax cuts in a number of places, imposing stricter limits on abortion and voting rights, and combating controversial issues like gun control,” Storey said.
Republicans see more areas for policy gains after Tuesday’s elections.
Jonathan Williams, the vice president of the Center for State Fiscal Reform at The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), was especially enthusiastic about one noteworthy chamber that flipped from Democratic to GOP control—the Kentucky House.
The Kentucky House had been the last state chamber in the South with a Democratic majority.
Republicans gained control of the chamber for the first time since 1922 and only the third time in the history of the state.
Williams said that he expects the newly Republican-controlled Kentucky House to help ease the passage of right-to-work legislation, which is backed by Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, and the GOP-controlled state Senate.
Twenty six states have right-to-work laws, meaning workers have the right to not join a union.
“Right-to-work now becomes a slam dunk in Kentucky during the first 100 days,” Williams said.
Williams also counts Iowa as a state ripe for policy action. The hotly contested Iowa Senate flipped for Republicans, giving GOP total control of the state. Iowa’s Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, and its Republican-controlled House, have been stymied by the formerly Democratic-run Senate in enacting tax cuts.
“With the Republican takeover of the Iowa Senate, I can see Iowa as an area of opportunity for conservatives when it comes to tax cuts,” Williams said.
Republicans, and nonpartisan observers like Storey and Diorio, say the GOP has been able to make strong gains in the states recently due to how Republicans drew legislative districts in 2010.
Redistricting does not happen again until 2020, but Democrats were hoping to prepare for that by regaining statehouses this year.
Recognizing the importance of this task, and how Republican dominance of states affects his own legacy, Obama travelled the country this year to support more than 150 state legislative candidates.
His efforts likely had impact, as Democrats notched some victories of their own. They retook both chambers in the Nevada Legislature. And Democrats now control every seat in the Hawaii Senate, the first time one party has completely controlled a chamber since 1980.
But those who follow state elections say these races—often decided by a few hundred votes—are uniquely personal, and driven by local sentiment, rather than national politics.
Indeed, election experts note that Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott clinched his victory in the Vermont governorship race over Democrat Sue Minter, despite the state voting overwhelmingly for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential race.
In West Virginia, meanwhile, Democrat Jim Justice kept the governor position in his party’s hands by beating Republican state Senate President Bill Cole. President-elect Donald Trump, a Republican, easily won West Virginia.
“One of things that makes state legislators unique is they are people who are out in their community every week making person-to-person contact,” Williams said. “They know their constituents in a way that presidential candidates and members of Congress do not. At the state level, people are less concerned with party politics than they are with kitchen table governance issues that really matter to individuals.”