Democratic legislatures may stymie GOP ambitions to control US House

Political control of the US House of Representatives may continue to elude Republicans for the next decade. Despite massive campaigns, the GOP on Nov. 4 was able to wrest control of but five state lawmaking chambers from the Democrats. And it is the state legislatures that will set congressional district boundaries for the next 10 years.

Redistricting, based on this year's US census, must be completed within the next 18 months to take effect in January 1982.

The GOP will have working majorities in both legislative chambers in 13 states. But in seven of these states, Democrats occupy the governor's mansion, thus reducing a potential Republican advantage.

And the six states where Republicans will dominate the lawmaking machinery, there will be no congressional redistricting because each state has only one congressional district.

By contrast, in 1971, 11 states had GOP-controlled legislatures and governorships.

But congressional districts were not the only political turf at stake this year.Starting in November 1982, the newly elected and still largely Democratic-dominated legislatures in most states will redistrict themselves.

An increasing number of states, however, have turned the latter job over to bipartisan panels -- sometimes comprising both elective and nonelective members.At least nine states -- Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Hawaii, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, and Ohio -- have such arrangements, although in several there is legislator participation. And in Maryland the governor does the districting subject to lawmaker changes.

Only in Montana is the congressional redistricting handled outside the state legislature.

Republican legislators, while still substantially outnumbered by Democrats in state legislatures across the nation -- 4,501 to 2,915 -- captured a total of 221 seats in 38 of the 43 states where lawmakers were elected.

Only in Maine, Minnesota, and West Virginia will the GOP have fewer legislators than over the past two years.

Democrats will control both lawmaking chambers and the governoships in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and West Virginia.

Legislative control in Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin similarly will remain in Democratic hands. But all these states have GOP governors.

Republicans have won or retained lawmaker majorities and governorships in Indiana, Iowa, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Vermont.

Both legislative branches in eight other states which have Democratic governors will be controled by Republicans. These are Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Utah, and Wyoming.

Only six states have divided legislative control. Maine, New York, and Ohio have Republican senates and Democratic lower houses.Delaware and Illinois have Republican houses and Democratic senates. And Alaska has a Democratic-controlled House and a Senate evenly split between the two parties. Nebraska has a Republican governor and a single-chamber "nonpartisan" legislature. The majority of the legislators, however, are from the GOP.

The Pennsylvania Senate, like Alaska's, is tied. But GOP control is assured because the GOP lieutenant governor, as presiding officer, can cast the deciding vote.

Overall, Republicans wrested legisltive controls from Democrats in five chambers, winning the Illinois, Montana, and Washington houses, and the Ohio and Pennsylvania senates. At the same time the slim one-seat GOP edge in the Alaska Senate was lost and membership in that chamber will be split evenly.

In 1978 Republicans not only retained the reins in all 20 legislative chambers where they then held the reins but gained control in 11 more.

Although nearly two-thirds of the nation's state lawmaking bodies will remain in Democratic hands in 1981, the GOP has increased its ranks in 60 of the 84 where elections were held. Lawmaking seats in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia, and state Senate seats in Michigan were not at stake this year, thus assuring continued Democratic dominance in all 15 chambers.

Illinois Republicans, besides gaining three seats to take over the state's lower house, 91 to 86, have added two Senate seats, and now are outnumbered there only 30 to 29 by Democrats. Gov. James Thompson is a Republican. This narrowed margin could greatly enhance the GOP's position in congressional and state legislative redistricting because a voter-initiated constitutional amendment approved on the same election ballot provides for a one-third reduction in the state's House of Representatives. This could mean wholesale redistricting rather then shifting a modest number of boundaries to meet "one-man, one-vote standards."

A three-seat GOP gain in the Ohio Senate gave the party an 18 to 15 advantage. In the lower chamber, however, Democratic dominance continues despite a six-seat loss to the Republicans.

Legislative gains in Washington State not only shifted House control to Republicans, 56 to 42 from 49 to 49 tie, but brought the GOP within one seat of Senate control.

Other states where Republican legislative ranks will increase significantly include Connecticut, Montana, and New Mexico.

With 12 more GOP members in the Montana House, control of that branch will shift, and for the first time in nearly two decades both lawmaking bodies there will be Republican-controlled.

In Connecticut, where Democratic dominance will continue, there will be three more Senate Republicans and 20 more GOP state representatives next year than at present.

With 10 state senators added to its ranks, New Mexico Republicans now will be outnumbered by only two. Democrats retained their six-seat margin in the lower legislative chamber.

Similarly unchanged will be the party split in Arizona, California, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, and Wyoming senates, and the Nevada, New York, and Wyoming lower chambers.

The heaviest Republicans losses are in Maine, where Democrats picked up two additional state senators, falling one short of controlling that chamber. Democrats also increased by six seats their already dominant position in the state House of Representatives.

Other major GOP setbacks include a four-seat slippage in the still Republican-controlled Vermont Senate, and the loss of five seats in the already heavily Democratic West Virginia House.

Republicans, who prior to the recent election held 36 percent of the nation's 7,482 state legislative seats, will comprise just short of 39 percent of lawmakers at 1981 sittings.

The 13 GOP-controlled legislatures are the most since 1973-1974, when 16 states had both chambers in Republican hands. The 1974 and 1976 elections each left only five legislatures dominated by the party. And two years ago the number climbed to 12.

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