State elections set stage for coming years

By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Voters across the country cast their ballots in November for 82 percent of the elected officials who make up federal and state government, as well as many local offices. People in various states also decided on transportation initiatives.

Understandably, many headlines in the mainstream national media focused on the congressional races following Election Day. However, voters made many other significant choices when they cast ballots in their home states.

Although federal rules govern much of the trucking industry, the power of the states has a major impact on owner-operators’ daily lives in terms of tolling, truck rules, and taxes and fees.

Governorships see little change in party control
Election Day saw 36 states select governors. The chief executives will have a far-reaching effect on government, including transportation funding for the foreseeable future.

Before Election Day, Republicans held a 29-21 edge among governors nationally. Afterwards, the GOP claimed a margin of 30-18 with one race still undecided. The governor-elect in Alaska is an Independent.

Of the 36 states voting for governor, five races were open seats from both parties, thanks to terms limits and incumbents choosing not to run for re-election.

Sitting Democratic governors in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York and Oregon retained their offices. Incumbent Republican governors in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Wyoming were also victorious.

Governors who lost their seat are Pat Quinn in Illinois, Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania and Sean Parnell in Alaska.

Illinois Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner addressed the Illiana Expressway project along the campaign trail. In 2010, Gov. Quinn signed legislation permitting the state to partner with private groups to develop, build and manage the proposed 50-mile toll road linking northeast Illinois and Indiana.

Rauner, a Republican, referred to the project as “an important economic development engine” for Will County and the surrounding area. However, he emphasized the importance of making sure any potential public-private partnership “doesn’t leave the taxpayers holding the bag.”

Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Tom Wolf criticized Corbett for signing off on tax and fee increases to support a $2.4 billion transportation spending plan approved one year ago.

Wolf, a Democrat, said that infrastructure is one of the main issues his administration would address.

Republicans wrested open seats held by Democrats in Arkansas, Maryland and Massachusetts.

New Republican governors elected in Arizona, Nebraska and Texas held their party’s seat. Hawaii and Rhode Island were retained by Democrats.

The Vermont governor’s race remains undecided. Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin and Republican Scott Milne were locked in a tight battle. Because neither candidate secured at least 50 percent of the public vote, the Democrat-dominated state Legislature will choose a winner after the first of the year.

With this year’s elections concluded, both parties turn their attention to 2016. At that time, nine states will elect governors. Of those, two Democratic governors are term-limited and are not eligible to seek re-election.

In seven states, four Republicans and three Democrats can pursue another term.

GOP makes gains in statehouse races
Seats in 87 of the nation’s 99 state legislative chambers were on fall ballots with Republicans making the biggest advances on Election Day.

The GOP now claims the majority in 68 chambers while the Democrats rule 30 chambers – changing from 57 and 41 before Nov. 4, respectively. At press time, one chamber remains undecided (Alaska).

Two years after Democrats made strides in reversing the Republican pendulum swing following the 2010 elections there was significant changeover throughout the nation with partisan control shifting from Democrats to Republicans in 11 statehouses. Majority control is significant because it can often allow a party to control the agenda and advance legislation on its own.

The GOP wrested away both chambers from Democrats in Nevada and West Virginia.

Republicans also won new majorities in the Colorado Senate, Maine Senate, Minnesota House, New Hampshire House, New Mexico House, New York Senate and Washington Senate.

The GOP now has the majority of both chambers in 30 states. Democrats have the majority in 11 states. Statehouses split between the parties increased from four to eight.

Nebraska has a single-chamber legislature that is nonpartisan.

In addition, 30 states have a trifecta. The distinction is for political parties that hold the governorship, the state Senate and state House majorities. Republicans have pulled the trick in 23 states and Democrats can claim it in seven states.

The grip of a party’s control is important because it can allow for the majority party to push through initiatives despite opposition from the minority party.

With this year’s elections nearly wrapped up, both parties turn their attention to 2016. At that time, 86 of the nation’s 99 chambers will hold state legislative elections. LL