Democrats must tackle abortion access, gun laws with new state power

After victories in this year’s elections, Democrats say they hope to use newfound power in Midwestern states to pass legislation aimed at protecting access to abortion and enacting new gun control measures, while Nevada’s Republican governor-elect seeks to expand school choice .

The two parties are developing their agendas amid a reshuffle of power in several states. Democrats flipped the state senate in Minnesota and both chambers of the Michigan legislature, meaning members of the party will have full control of government because the states have Democratic governors. Democrats won control of the Pennsylvania House, further splitting government in that state, while gaining control of the governorships in Arizona, Maryland and Massachusetts.

Republicans will hold the governorship in 26 states next year, compared to 24 states for Democrats. More than half of the nation’s population will live in states with Democratic governors, said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, president of the Democratic Governors Association. Before the election, there were 28 Republican governors and 22 Democrats in office. There have been more Republican governors since 2011, and the number of Democratic governors was 16 as of 2018, according to the National Governors Association.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz celebrates at an election night party after winning his bid to return to office.


Photo:

Abbie Parr/Associated Press

The latest victories helped Democrats chip away at the significant Republican advantage — which the GOP maintains — when it comes to control of state government around the United States. The GOP flipped a governorship in Nevada this year, breaking the Democratic hold on a state where that party maintained control of both chambers of the legislature.

Heading into the 2024 election, Democrats said they hope these incremental gains will help them push policies that are becoming harder to achieve in Washington. After the midterm elections, Republicans are set to take control of the House of Representatives and share power at the federal level. Democrats at the state level aim to pass measures on such polarizing issues as abortion, which faced hurdles under divided state governments.

“You’ll also see us focus on things that have been ignored over the last few years or have been under attack,” said Winnie Brinks, the incoming majority leader of Michigan’s state Senate.

Voters there re-elected Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, and approved a ballot measure enshrining reproductive rights in the state constitution. Democrats will have full control of Michigan’s state government for the first time since 1984.

Legislative leaders said they plan to repeal a largely dormant 1931 state abortion ban and add protections for LGBT people to the state’s civil rights law. Other priorities include increasing infrastructure spending and passing new legislation regarding firearms storage requirements, Brinks said.

Groups backing Democrats spent more money on state legislative races this cycle than those boosting Republicans. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee spent $50 million on races, compared with $30 million for the Republican State Leadership Committee, spokespeople said. A Democratic group known as the States Project spent another $60 million, according to Daniel Squadron, a founding partner of the organization and a former New York lawmaker.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer was re-elected in Michigan, where Democrats will have full control of state government.


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REBECCA COOK/REUTERS

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Republicans still have a significant lead in veto-proof majorities. This lead significantly limits Democrats’ ability to influence legislation in states like Florida and Ohio.

“Republicans defied the odds Tuesday night by facing a surge in national liberal spending and an incredibly challenging political environment to still maintain their grip on an overwhelming majority of state legislatures across the country,” wrote Republican State Leadership Committee Chairman Dee Duncan. note after the election.

Minnesota Democrats plan to pass a bill that would legalize access to abortions and strengthen access currently protected by a state Supreme Court ruling, said Melissa Hortman, the current House speaker and member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. She said other priorities include passing a paid family leave measure and new gun legislation, while noting previous failed efforts to pass a red flag law. Such a measure generally allows authorities to temporarily remove guns from people who threaten violence.

“The trifecta is a total game-changer for the people of Minnesota,” said Ms. Hortman regarding the party’s control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office.

Trying to improve student-counselor relationships in schools and expanding children’s access to mental health services are also priorities, said incoming Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic. With a slim one-vote majority in the Senate, Democrats will have little margin for error. They will have to work to get the details right before deciding what potential bills might look like on such issues as firearms legislation, Ms. Dziedzic said.

For Republicans, improving school grades and public safety and lowering tax bills for families are all goals, said Republican Sen. Mark Johnson, who is transitioning to the role of minority leader after leading the GOP majority. “I hope these are the same priorities that the Democrats have.”

Republicans broke a Democratic trifecta in Nevada when Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo defeated Gov. Steve Sisolak — the only incumbent governor to lose re-election this year. In a victory speech last week, Mr. Lombardo promised to expand school choice, increase public safety and reopen government offices closed during the pandemic.

“I will insist on coming together on common ground, armed with new ideas and driven by discipline to succeed,” said Mr. Lombardo. A spokesman for the campaign did not return messages seeking comment.

Steve Yeager, the top Democrat in the Nevada Assembly, said in an interview: “The people of Nevada want solutions to these problems, and I hope we can work together.”

Joe Lombardo, Republican governor-elect of Nevada, wants to expand school choice.


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John Locher/Associated Press

Write to Jimmy Vielkind at jimmy.vielkind@wsj.com and Jon Kamp at Jon.Kamp@wsj.com

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