States, Ballots, and Parties, Oh My!

After long and hard-fought campaigns, the majority of states’ political landscapes are now cemented for the next two years. From gubernatorial seats to state legislatures to major ballot issues, 2018 has proved to be a historic year for state and local politics.

States, States, States
Nearly three-quarters of the country’s gubernatorial seats were up for grabs. Prior to the election, Republicans held 26 seats, Democrats nine, and Independents one. Democrats flipped at least seven previously held Republican seats, while the Republicans took control of the one previous Independent seat (AK).

A total of 18 incumbent governors were seeking re-election, including 13 Republicans and five Democrats. All five Democratic incumbents won their races (HI, NY, OR, PA, and RI) and 11 Republican incumbents won re-election (AL, AZ, AR, IA, MD, MA, NE, NH, SC, TX, and VT), with two Republican incumbents losing to the Democratic candidate (IL and WI). Additionally, Democrats gained five gubernatorial seats previously held by the Republicans (KS, ME, MI, NM, and NV). The only state Republicans didn’t previously control, but won, was Alaska. There are still two outstanding gubernatorial races, Florida and Georgia.

Gubernatorial candidates represented greater diversity than ever before. Georgia Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams, whose race is still undecided, had hoped to make history as the first African American female governor, not only in Georgia, but nationwide. Likewise, Florida’s Democratic candidate, Andrew Gillum, aspiring to be Florida’s first African American governor. In Colorado, current U.S. Representative Jared Polis became the first openly gay man elected governor. LGBTQ gubernatorial candidates also included Governor Kate Brown in Oregon, Lupe Valdez in Texas, and Christine Hallquist in Vermont, the first transgender major party nominee for governor.

State results also show that state legislatures will continue to be overwhelmingly controlled by one party. In 2019, Democrats will control 18 legislatures, Republicans 31, and Minnesota will be the only state with a divided legislature. If all election results hold, Democrats flipped six legislative chambers, while the Republicans flipped one. However, overall Republicans will control 62 state legislative chambers (32 senate, 30 house), compared to Democrats’ 37 state legislative chambers (18 senate, 19 house).

Election results also saw the political parties claim greater control over individual states. If election results remain the same, there will be a total of 37 trifectas—where one political party holds the governorship and a majority in the state senate and house. Democrats net gained six trifectas compared to the Republicans’ net loss of four. Current results include 22 Republican and 14 Democratic trifectas, though Republicans would pick up an additional trifecta with a gubernatorial win in Georgia.

Ballots, Ballots, Ballots
Ballots play an important role in local government and politics, and this election contained an abundance of climate and energy initiatives of interest to landscape architects. The four most prevalent climate-related propositions appeared on the ballots in Washington, Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado. The following four initiatives could have led to substantial climate benefits in both the policy and scientific realms; however, all ballot questions failed to pass except for Nevada.

  • Washington’s initiative 1631 would have established a carbon tax on large emitters of greenhouse gases starting in 2020. The funds gathered from the charges would have supported environmental programs and projects. Washington would have been the first state to implement a carbon tax. 
  • Both Nevada and Arizona were looking to require electric utilities to obtain 50 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2030. Nevada is first among states for solar energy potential, with Arizona a close second. Nevada’s ballot question 6 passed with an overwhelming 60 percent of voter support. However, question 6 is required to be enshrined in the state’s constitution, so it must appear on the ballot in 2020 for a final vote. The same effort was not successful in Arizona, as 70 percent of voters opposed the change. 
  • Proposition 112 in Colorado would have required new oil and gas drilling to be at least 2,500 feet away from occupied buildings or vulnerable areas, such as parks. About 57 percent of Coloradoans opposed the effort, as the state was America’s seventh top oil-producing state and fifth top natural gas-producing state in 2017.

Despite the climate-related ballot losses, citizens around the country voted to support several other ballot measures with potential significance to landscape architecture:

  • Connecticut Amendment 2: Requires a public hearing and a two-thirds majority vote to authorize the transfer, sale, or disposal of state-owned properties such as state parks, forests, and conserved land. 
  • Georgia Amendment 1: Amends the constitution to authorize the legislature to create a conservation trust fund to dedicate up to 80 percent of revenue from sales and use taxes on outdoor recreation equipment. 
  • Maine Question 2: Authorizes $30 million in bonds for water infrastructure improvement. 
  • Maine Question 3: Authorizes $106 million in bonds for transportation infrastructure projects. 
  • Rhode Island Question 3: Authorizes $47.3 million in bonds for environmental, water, and recreational projects.

Conclusion
Overall, the 2018 midterms set historic records for voter turnout, individual campaign expenses, and ballot campaign expenses. According to National Public Radio, almost half of the eligible voter population voted, making 2018 the single highest midterm voter turnout since 1966. ASLA encourages all of our members to continue to remain educated and civically involved at all levels of government.

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