Capitol Comments

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, Toll Class of 2009, reflects on the impacts Tuesday’s elections will have on his state.

"The results of the November election are going to have people rapt with attention for a long time. In Maine, all speculation about the staying power of the Tea Party movement is done--with sweeping victories in both the House and Senate as well as the office of Governor, Republicans will have full control over all elected bodies of state government for the first time since 1964.


Nearly lost among races for governor, Congress and key statewide races, voters in several states decided the fate of numerous measures affecting public education – in many cases, whether to increase or limit school funding. The voter sentiment was a mixed bag for school funding.

There were lots of transportation-related headlines to take away from Tuesday’s election: The chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee going down to defeat and what it might mean for authorization legislation… The future of high-speed rail put in doubt by the election of three new Republican governors opposed to rail projects… And a somewhat mixed message from voters on revenues for transportation. Although it will likely take a long time to sort it all out, here are some initial thoughts.

State elected officials aren't immune from the frustrations voters are directing at Washington representatives--frustrations that translate into political volatility.  As Neil King Jr. of The Wall Street Journal reports, "Voters this week look set to do something not seen since the early 1950s: Oust a substantial number of sitting [U.S.] House lawmakers for the third election in a row."

As voters determined who would be governing their states and the nation on Tuesday, they also made decisions on a myriad of ballot initiatives, referendums and legislative measures.  In total, there were 160 ballot proposals in 37 states, many of which were related to fiscal and economic issues.  According to the Initiative and Referendum Institute, taxes – as in past years – were the number one issue on state ballots in 2010.  Measures concerning property taxes found their way on to a number of state ballots this year, along with income taxes, sales taxes, fiscal limits, fees and miscellaneous taxes, rainy day funds, and changes to legislative procedures and voting requirements related to budget issues. 

On Tuesday, Californians voted down Prop. 23, which sought to suspend California’s landmark global warming/clean energy legislation until unemployment dropped to 5.5% for 4 consecutive quarters.

California voters soundly defeated Proposition 19, which would have allowed people 21 and older to possess, grow and transport marijuana for their personal use. It would also have permitted cities and counties to decide whether to regulate and tax the commercial production and sale of the drug, possibly creating a system of "wet" and "dry" counties for marijuana, similar to those that exist with alcohol laws.  With 97% of precincts reporting, the measure has been defeated, 46.2 percent to 53.8 percent.

Voters in Arizona and Oklahoma had the chance – and took it - to reject one of the main provisions of the federal health reform bill, requiring health insurance or facing a tax penalty beginning in 2014. But in Colorado, the voters defeated a similar provision.

With Oregon still undecided, 18 houses switched party control this election - all from Democratic to Republican control. Many of these gains return party control to where it was in 2006 or 2008, when many houses switched from red to blue following Democratic gains.  In total, 11 of the 18 switches represent a flip-flop from red to blue and back to red over the past four years. 

While the dust has not completely settled and votes continue being counted from last night’s mid-term elections, we are certain that the republicans have gained control of the House of Representatives.  Republicans also appear to be on their way to substantial gains in the number of gubernatorial seats held and the number state houses and senates controlled.  How the shift in power might impact state federal relations remains to be seen, but based on the campaign and the general mood in the country it appears likely that there will be a shift toward a smaller federal government and a greater influence for state policymakers.