How Incoming State Trifectas Will Impact Policy in 2019

November 6th brought an influx of diversity to the U.S. House and Senate and a drove of newly passed ballot measures. Passing legislation at the Federal level, however, has proven more convoluted than ever, and with a divided government post-midterms, we only expect that issue to be further exacerbated come 2019. Meanwhile, incoming State Trifectas have people at the state level rethinking their initiatives for the 2019 legislative session. 

So how should advocacy groups reroute their strategy to advance their issue?

Let’s start by taking a look at how elections panned out down the ballot. Changes in power in State Legislative Chambers are often the trojan horse for advocacy groups looking to yield more power over their issue and as a result, pass more legislation.

In 87 out of the 99 state legislative chambers elections were held on November 6th, resulting in a shakeup in state-level politics. Heading into the 2018 Midterm Elections, Democrats controlled 32 legislative chambers, and Republicans, 67. Democrats, historically, have had a weak performance at the state level, a contributing factor to the decay of Democratic control at the Federal level, as state-level offices largely impact the political pipeline to the national spotlight.  

Similar to the results nationally, Republicans were able to maintain their hegemony, but not without taking a hit to their majority. At this point, we know that Democrats were able to flip 6 state chambers in Colorado, Maine, New York, Illinois, Nevada, and New Hampshire, while Republicans maintained control over 61 chambers and flipped 1.  

The Trifecta Effect

The major states to look out for in 2019 will be those where Democrats won over a trifecta, a situation when one political party controls the governor’s office, the State Senate and the State House. On November 6th, Democrats managed to nearly double their number of trifectas, a promising sign for the party’s 2020 ambitions.  

Republicans still hold more trifectas than Democrats (22 vs. 14, respectively), but expect Democrats to go all in on states with their stronghold.

Big Win for Democrats: From Divided Power to Democrat Trifecta

  • In New York, Democrats flipped the Senate, kept the House and Andrew Cuomo won his re-election as Governor.
  • The Colorado Democrats won the State Senate, flipping Colorado from divided to a trifecta for the Democrats
  • In Maine, Democrats managed to flip the elections need to gain another trifecta as they won the Senate and Janet Mills took first place in the governor’s race
  • In 2016, New Mexico held State Legislative elections where Democrats won. At the time the Republican Martinez held the governor’s office, but last Tuesday Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham became governor-elect, giving Democrats another trifecta.
  • In Nevada Democrats also won the Governor’s race and had come out victorious from the Assembly elections held in June. One more trifecta for Democrats

Overall, 13 states are now divided in government, with Georgia voters still waiting for official results in their governor’s race.

  • Republicans lost 4 trifectas, but Democrats did not flip these to their advantage.
  • Democrats in Michigan managed to take the governor’s mansion from Republicans. Similarly, Laura Kelly won the governor’s race for the Democrats in Kansas and together with Kansas, these 3 states are ending Republican trifectas that began in 2011.
  • In NH, both House and Senate were won by Democrats, while in the governor’s race the Republican Chris Sununu was reelected. This ended also ended a Republican trifecta.

GOP Trifectas: 22 total, but only 1 pick-up

  • In Alaska, voters chose Republican Mike Dunleavy over Independent incumbent Bill Walker. With the Alaska legislature under Republican control, Alaska is the only trifecta the GOP picks up
  • Republicans are keeping a close eye on Georgia which is still up for grabs

Where do State Legislative Chambers Yield the Most Power?

During the Obama administration, Democrats lost more than 900 state legislative seats across the country, allowing Republicans to advance their issues country-wide. As Democrats have started to chip away at Republicans’ stronghold on the state level, expect them to focus on the issues where they can unilaterally affect the most change. Issues like healthcare, education, and especially voter rights will be large targets for state-level lawmakers looking to pass comprehensive laws. Not as important to state lawmakers? Issues like immigration or defense that are primarily handled at the Federal level.

Here’s our hypotheses for states that flipped from Republican power as a result of the election on November 6th.  

Healthcare

Republican power in legislative chambers across the United States paved a path for them to advance pro-life policies and undermine Medicaid expansion, however, with Democrats taking over a handful of new states, expect that they will make it a priority to negate those efforts.

  • With a new Democrat Trifecta in Colorado, Democrats have a chance to loosen abortion access restrictions previously imposed by Republicans. Currently, public employees’ insurance does not cover abortions in the case of rape, incest or life threatening illness of the mother and doesn’t acknowledge the right to abortion. Since legislators cannot amend the constitution, Democrats will likely put this issue on the ballot in 2020.
  • In New York, under Trifecta Democratic control, anticipate that Governor Cuomo will finally receive and sign the Reproductive Health Act. If the bill passes it will regulate abortion as a form of healthcare, rather than under the state’s penal code, which is how it is legally perceived today. The bill will also allow physicians assistants and registered nurses to perform abortions, which currently can only be performed by licensed physicians.
  • In 2017, voters in Maine chose to expand Medicaid on a state referendum, but Governor LePage refused to implement the policy. Now that Democrats hold a trifecta in the northeastern state, Medicaid expansion roll-out will be a top priority and thus, alter the way the opioid crisis is handled in the state. Governor LePage was a proponent of an enforcement-first approach, whereas newly elected Governor Mills has expressed desire to increase public funding for medicated-assisted treatments while building a more robust safety net for the state.
  • Across Democratic Trifecta states, there will likely be an attempt to implement single payer healthcare models, especially in places like California and New York, where this issue has already been in talks (but not without possibly triggering a legal backlash)

Education

An issue that voters were laser-focused on during the elections, education is anticipated to be a top priority for Democrats looking to push for more public education funding to address the teacher shortages and increase teacher salaries. Here’s what to look out for.

  • Illinois: Democrats now hold a Trifecta in the state, however, Governor J.B. Pritzker’s incongruent positions on school funding expose an ambiguous future to the state of education. While he has expressed opposition to tax credits and funds for private schools, as well as the expansion of charter schools, Pritzker has also stated that some charter schools are worth supporting, setting off the alarms of teacher unions and public education advocates. Expect Democratic legislators to put up a lively debate to push for public education in the state.
  • Governor Pritzker also supports the funding of the state’s university system. If he succeeds in pushing for more public funding for Illinois’ universities, we could see a ripple effect in surrounding states like Kansas and Wisconsin, where Democratic Governor’s Laura Kelly and Tony Evers, respectively, campaigned on a strong public education platform.

Voting Rights

  • With New York and Connecticut under complete Democratic control, lawmakers will likely push for legislation that enables early voting, a statute that does not stand today. New York expects to rectify this soon, as a bill introducing early voting and same-day registration has already been brought to the floor, but stalled in the state senate.

Find out more about critical races and learn about winners’ stances on issues, driven by Phone2Action’s election data:

Where Winners of Key Races Stand on the Issues

Although Republicans were able to keep control of the Senate, Democrats headway in the House and in state legislative chambers could spark several policy changes that advocacy groups should be following closely. As advocacy groups prepare for 2020, how these issues pan out at the state level will have a considerable impact in galvanizing voters in the next election.

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