Trickle of Democratic Legislators Become Republicans

Fewer state-level Democrats are becoming Republicans than in 1994, new Speakers of the House are elected in Montana and Tennessee, and other news of the historic shift in power in the states.
by | November 19, 2010
 

In 1994, the last time Republicans won an electoral landslide, their advantages were magnified after Election Day. A steady stream of conservative Democratic lawmakers switched parties, helping Republicans secure majorities in both the North Carolina House and South Carolina House. It's more of a trickle this time around, with party-switching state legislators numbering in the single digits.

The most noteworthy switch actually took place in a state that didn't hold state elections this year: Louisiana. Republicans now have more seats than Democrats in the Louisiana House of Representatives for the first time in modern history thanks to a party switch, the Times-Picayune reports. Even there, though, the move came with relatively little practical significance. Louisiana already had a Republican House speaker, Jim Tucker, before the change. In Maine, one House Democrat has switched to the Republicans, helping the party pad its narrow majority, the Bangor Daily News reports. Georgia House Republicans have expanded their majority even further thanks to three party-switchers, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The relative scarcity of party-switching reflects the ideological sorting out of the parties that has taken place in recent decades. Many conservative Democrats became Republicans years ago. Of those who remained, many have lost their offices to conservative Republicans.

In the race for House speaker in Montana, the more moderate Republican candidate won. But you wouldn't know it from his rhetoric. Mike Milburn will lead the lower body, where Republicans will hold 68 of the 100 seats, the Great Falls Tribune reports. Milburn survived a challenge from state Rep. Krayton Kerns, who ran as a Tea Party candidate. Milburn won, it seems, in part by co-opting Kerns' message that the state should stand up to the federal government. The Tribune quotes Milburn as saying, "This election sent a clear message. America looked socialism in the eye, and they said, 'we're scared.' They said we need to stop doing just about everything Washington has been doing the last few years."

As in Montana, the more moderate candidate prevailed in a Republican legislative leadership fight in Tennessee. Republicans picked state Rep. Beth Harwell as their nominee for House speaker, which virtually assures that she will be leading the chamber come January. Despite her party's sizable majority, Harwell has said she'll work with Democrats. She will be the first woman to lead the Tennessee House, the Tennesseean reports.

Even though he'll remain a key state official in Alaska, Dan Sullivan is in for a major career change. Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell has picked Sullivan, the state's current attorney general, as his new commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources. Sullivan was appointed attorney general by Sarah Palin, but is well-liked even by factions of the Republican Party that dislike Palin, the Alaska Dispatch reports. One of Sullivan's biggest challenges will be facilitating the construction of the costly 1,700-mile natural gas pipeline that has been an obsession of Alaska's state government in recent years.

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