Four takeaways from 2018 fall elections in the Midwest

Key developments include shifts in partisan control in one of the region's legislatures and four governor's offices, Michigan's legalization of recreational marijuana and the state's redistricting overhaul, and Nebraska's Medicaid expansion.

Takeaway #1: Democrats gain in some states, but GOP still holds strong majorities in most
The Midwest’s 20 partisan legislative chambers have a total of 1,501 seats, and Republicans will occupy more than 60 percent of them in 2019. In this fall’s elections, Democrats did have a net pickup of about 50 state legislative seats in this region, led by double-digit gains in Minnesota and Michigan. Still, Republicans have held onto their seat gains from the “wave” election of 2010 (see line graph).
The partisan shift in Minnesota means Democrats now enjoy a majority in the House, while Republicans maintain a one-seat advantage in the Senate. It will be the only state in the nation with a split legislature. (According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the last time that the United States had only one divided state legislature was 1914.)
In 2019, parties will be sharing power in three other Midwestern states as the result of Democratic wins in the Kansas, Michigan and Wisconsin governor races. Each of these states has a Republican-controlled legislature and, prior to the 2018 election, had a GOP governor. The other party shift from this year’s gubernatorial races occurred in Illinois, where incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner lost to J.B. Pritzker, the Democratic candidate.
Regionwide, Republicans hold a slight majority of the governors’ offices (six vs. five for the Democrats). The GOP has majorities in all but three of the Midwest’s partisan legislative chambers — the lone exceptions being the Illinois House and Senate and the Minnesota House. Further, Republicans hold more than 70 percent of the seats in eight of the region’s legislative chambers: Indiana Senate, Kansas House and Senate, North Dakota House and Senate, Ohio Senate, and South Dakota House and Senate.




Takeaway # 2: Recreational use of marijuana approved in first Midwestern state
Michigan is the first state in the Midwest to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for individuals 21 and older. The November ballot proposal, which also allows people to grow up to 12 marijuana plants for personal use, won by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent.
Under this new law, the state will create a licensing system for marijuana businesses, with retail sales subject to a tax of up to 10 percent. Local governments will have the authority to ban stores within their jurisdiction from selling marijuana.
Michigan already was one of five Midwestern states — Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota and Ohio are the others — with broad laws allowing for the use of medical marijuana. It now joins nine states outside the Midwest that permit recreational use. Conversely, North Dakotans soundly rejected a legalization proposal this fall, by a vote of 59 percent to 41 percent.



Takeaway #3: Nebraska becomes 8th state in region to expand Medicaid eligibility
After several failed attempts to get a Medicaid expansion law approved by Nebraska’s Unicameral Legislature and governor, supporters of the idea took it directly to the voters — and won. As a result, the state must expand its public health insurance program to cover adults between the ages of 19 and 64 with income levels at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Legislators will have to appropriate an estimated $52 million over the next biennium to fund the expansion.
As a result of the vote in Nebraska, there are now only three Midwestern states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs under the U.S. Affordable Care Act: Kansas, South Dakota and Wisconsin. (According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Wisconsin does cover some childless adults.)


Takeaway #4: Major redistricting changes come to two Midwestern states
n another closely watched ballot proposal in Michigan, voters chose to overhaul their state’s redistricting process, taking it out of the hands of the Legislature and handing control to a 13-member commission. 
These commissioners will be randomly selected from a pool of registered voters — four Democrats, four Republicans and five unaffiliated, independent members. The Michigan secretary of state will oversee the selection process. Partisan elected officials, lobbyists, employees of the Legislature, and party officials will not be eligible to serve on the redistricting commission.
This constitutional amendment received approval by more than 60 percent of Michigan voters. 
This spring, voters in Ohio approved big changes to that state’s redistricting process. The legislatively referred constitutional amendment encourages a bipartisan approach to how congressional maps are drawn — by requiring any new U.S. House district lines to be approved by a three-fifths “yes” vote in the Ohio House and Senate. Those “yes” votes must include support from at least half of the members of each of the state’s two largest political parties.
If the General Assembly does not approve a plan, congressional redistricting is turned over to a commission: the governor, secretary of state, state auditor and four legislative representatives from both parties. Any commission-drawn map will require “yes” votes from at least two Republican and two Democratic members. If the commission cannot reach an agreement, the General Assembly regains control of the process. At this stage, a new map can be approved with a simple majority vote, but it would then to have comply with several “anti-gerrymandering requirements” and expire after only two general elections.
In 2015, Ohio voters approved a change requiring bipartisan support of any commission-drawn plans for state legislative districts.


Stateline Midwest: November 20182.79 MB