by Karl Kurtz
We used to talk about the "solid South," the complete Democratic dominance of southern state politics from the 1880s until the Republican resurgence in the region in the 1990s. Now, at least for one election, it's the "solid North." Democrats control 19 of the 20 legislative chambers in the Northeast (21 of 22 if you prefer to call Maryland an eastern state) after the 2008 election. The only exception is the Pennsylvania Senate.
The events that made this possible were the remarkable swing to the Democrats in both chambers of the New Hampshire General Court in 2006 and the retention of that gain and the pickup of the Delaware House and the New York Senate in 2008.
As far as I can tell, this Democratic dominance in the Northeast has never before occurred in American history. In effect, the "system of 1896," in which the Republicans controlled virtually every legislative chamber in the region from 1896 to 1932, has been stood on its head by the 2008 election. Further evidence of this upside down effect comes from the South, where Republicans now are close to having a majority of the legislative chambers, thereby at least partially reversing the system of 1896 in which Democrats ruled in that region.
To be sure, one election in the first decade of the 21st century doesn't compare with nearly four decades of history at the beginning of the 20th century, but it's still a noteworthy event.
The switches in party control in New York and Delaware reversed long-held majorities. The 2008 election marks only the second time that the New York Senate has been held by Democrats since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a one-time New York state senator, was in the White House. The Delaware House has been under Republican control since 1984.
Democrats had a net gain of 37 seats in the region over the two-year period since 2006, including special elections and the 2007 New Jersey election. They now hold 66 percent of the seats, also a historic high for the Northeast.
The Democratic dominance in the Northeast is not quite complete both because of the Pennsylvania Senate and because Republicans hold the governorships in Vermont, where Jim Douglas was reelected last week, and in Connecticut and Rhode Island, which did not have gubernatorial elections this year. Those four states have divided party control of state government.
Here are a few other tidbits from the election:
- Maine, a state with one of the oldest populations in the country, elected eight legislators in their 20s to the House. Connecticut also elected four young legislators. The Hartford Courant says of them, "They Twitter, they blog and, of course, they all have Facebook pages, but it was the old-school elements of retail politics — knocking on doors, standing at supermarkets — that made the difference."
- The Democratic majorities are veto-proof in Rhode Island, where Democrats hold 90 percent of the seats in both chambers combined, in Massachusetts (89 percent), and in Connecticut (74 percent).
- The narrowest majorities are in Pennsylvania. The Republican majority in the Senate is 29-20 with one vacancy. Democrats have a 104-99 edge in the House, up from 102-101 in the last biennium. It's possible, though, that the House would choose to elect a Republican speaker again, as they did after the 2006 election.
- The congressional results put an exclamation point on the Democrats' success in the Northeast. For the first time ever, Republicans will not hold a single seat in the U.S. House in the New England states. Was the reverse ever true, that Democrats held no congressional seats during the system of 1896? I don't have the answer to that question at my fingertips. Let me know if you have the answer.
For a national report on the election, see StateVote 2008 and "Election 2008--Making History." See also "Reverse Presidential Coattails in the South," "Party Balance in Midwestern Legislatures," and "Small Gains for Democrats in the West."