Statehouses Take on Republican Tint Too, Shaping Local Issues

HOW will a Democratic chief executive deal with the new GOP power barons in the legislature? Will next year bring conflict or cooperation?

These questions are now as relevant in Olympia, Wash., and Indianapolis, Ind., as they are on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Election 1994 up-ended the status quo in statehouses from California to Florida.

Consider just one example: In a rebuke to Washington Gov. Mike Lowry (D) as well as President Clinton, voters here reversed the state's House chamber from two-thirds Democrat to almost two-thirds Republican.

The more conservative tide that washed across the country promises to affect issues ranging from taxes and health care to education, welfare, and crime. The triumph of a smaller-government message may also cause the federal government to give more responsibility and flexibility to states.

Before last Tuesday, there were 14 states in which Democrats held the governor's mansion as well as both chambers of the legislature. Republicans held four states, and 32 had some form of split control.

Now Republicans may wind up with effective control of 16 state governments, while Democratic control will remain in only seven or eight. Undecided governors races may add Alaska to the Republican camp and Maryland to the Democrats.

``This really was a Democratic-message rejection,'' says Jack Van Der Slik, director of the Illinois Legislative Studies Center at Sangaman State University in Springfield, Ill.

The Midwest promises to be a hotbed of GOP experimentation at the state level. Popular Republican governors helped bring legislatures under their party's control in Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Meanwhile, Indiana, with a Democratic governor, also saw Republicans take charge of the legislature.

In Pennsylvania, the GOP may also wrest control. The House balance now stands at 102-101 in favor of the Democrats. Even without one party-switcher, moderate Democrats may back much of the conservative agenda, says G. Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Millersville University in Millersville, Penn.

In Florida, conservative Democrats also could be pivotal, since the Republicans won the Senate but narrowly lost the House.

California's Assembly is a 40-40 tie waiting to be broken. A Republican takeover of the speakership would give Gov. Pete Wilson (R) a vital ally as the state confronts difficult budget questions. Democrats retained control of the Senate.

In the South, Republican gains signal the final phase of a ``conversion from being rubber-stamp Democratic to being Republican,'' says analyst Claibourne Darden of Darden Research Corporation in Atlanta.

Southerners, wary of Republicans since the era of reconstruction, have been increasingly tilting toward GOP candidates for president and other national offices. Now the trend is filtering down to the state-legislature level, with North Carolina's House going Republican for the first time since 1896.

It is too late for Democrats to stop the shift, Mr. Darden says. ``Too much water is over the dam.''

Even in the North, the party is in trouble, acknowledges Gov. Howard Dean (D) of Vermont. ``We are going to have to be very careful about managing money,'' to align with voter concerns about taxes and spending. Of the more than 6,000 statehouse seats up for election nationwide this year, only 11 Republican-held seats swung to Democrats. With some races still undecided, the GOP has captured 471 Democratic seats.

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