... And the Statehouses

Contests for state legislatures usually dwell in a media twilight - some local attention, but little national interest. This year, presumably, they'll get even less column space and air time with the presidential klieg lights on. But that may not be the case.

True, these races are often dulled by a plethora of unopposed incumbents. In Massachusetts, for example, 21 of the 40 state Senate contests have only one contestant. In the lower chamber, 93 incumbents have a free ride, out of 160 seats. But the number of uncontested races was considerably higher two years ago.

In fact, state legislative elections generally are showing new vigor in 2000. There's a one-word explanation: redistricting. State lawmakers elected this fall will use new census data to redraw state and congressional district lines.

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In essence, they'll have a large hand in setting the course of American politics for the next 10 years. That prospect gets the partisan juices flowing, and it should spark voter interest in these races.

Also important are the issues tumbling into state legislatures. These include traditional, but ever potent, fare like property-tax reform, education funding, and highway repair. Many legislatures face economically critical decisions, such as whether to tax Internet commerce.

Experts who track state politics see a broad historical trend toward more hotly contested races. Decades ago, Southern legislatures were bastions of Democratic power, with incumbents-for-life the rule. The West was sewn up by the Republicans. Today, those old fiefdoms are gone. Nationwide, 19 state legislatures are controlled by Democrats, 18 by the GOP, and 12 are split between them. More third-party candidates are running as well.

So state races, while often in the shadows to the media, are in fact catching the eye of more voters - as indeed they should.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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