Democrats Gain as Elections Usher In 8 New Governors

By Harrison Donnelly — November 11, 1992 3 min read
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While overshadowed by the Presidential contest, last week’s 12 gubernatorial contests produced results that could have a major impact on education.

The elections brought in eight new governors--nine counting President-elect Bill Clinton’s replacement in Arkansas--strengthened Democratic ranks, and restored to power an important figure in the history of the education-reform movement.

Voters in two states rejected candidates who had called for higher state taxes for education. Combined with the defeat of state tax-increase and school-funding initiatives, the results suggested that the public remains wary of state tax hikes even if they hold out the prospect of reducing the burden of property taxes for the schools. (See Education Week, Oct. 28, 1992.)

The elections yielded a net gain of two states for the Democrats, giving that party 30 governorships, compared with 18 for the Republicans.

All four Democratic incumbents who were seeking re-election won, while Democrats picked up four of the eight open seats, six of which had been held by G.O.P. incumbents.

Democrats also are likely to hold the Arkansas governorship, although who will fill the seat remains to be seen. Lieut. Gov. Jim Guy Tucker has argued that the state constitution calls on him to fill the post when it becomes vacant.

But Attorney General Winston Bryant points to a constitutional provision requiring a special election, in which he would be expected to challenge Mr. Tucker. A state court was considering the issue last week.

Republicans gained nationally, however, in the legislatures. Early returns suggested the G.O.P. had scored a net gain of control of five legislative chambers. That would give Republicans majorities in both chambers in nine states, compared with 25 for the Democrats.

Analysts had predicted the Republicans would gain in the legislatures as a result of redistricting following the 1990 Census. (See Education Week, Oct. 28, 1992.)

Hunt Returns

James B. Hunt Jr., a Democrat elected to a third nonconsecutive term in North Carolina, has already compiled an extensive education record both in and out of public office.

During his previous two terms as Governor, from 1977 to 1985, Mr. Hunt was active in the first wave of the state education-reform movement. In 1983, for example, he was chairman of an Education Commission of the States panel that produced one of the first major reports calling for greater school efforts to prepare students for a competitive, technology-based economy.

In 1984, Mr. Hunt launched the state’s Basic Education Program, which sought to equalize course offerings, class sizes, and staffing levels throughout the state.

More recently, Mr. Hunt has served as the elected chairman of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Observers say he has taken an active role in the board’s work and has indicated he would stay in the position if elected.

Mr. Hunt last week handily defeated his Republican opponent, Lieut. Gov. James C. Gardner.

Costly Tax Stance

Two Democratic candidates who had campaigned on the risky platform of raising statewide taxes for education fell short last week.

In New Hampshire, Rep. Deborah L. Arnesen challenged conventional political wisdom by promising to end the state’s status as the last without a sales or personal-income tax. Ms. Arnesen gambled that voters would be willing to accept an income tax in return for a reduction in property taxes for the schools.

But although 1992 was a relatively strong Democratic year in New Hampshire, the idea of an income tax remained anathema to voters. Ms. Arensen lost by a wide margin to the G.O.P. candidate, Steve Merrill.

A similar fate, but a much closer margin, befell Rep. Dorothy Bradley in Montana.

Both Ms. Bradley and her G.O.P. opponent, Attorney General Marc Racicot, favored creating a 4 cent sales tax. But Ms. Bradley would have devoted some of the proceeds to reducing school-finance disparities, while Mr. Racicot called for focusing the new revenues on property-tax relief.

In a bitter media battle, Mr. Racicot won by 2 percentage points.

In Missouri, Lieut. Gov. Mel Carnahan, who had campaigned for a tax hike to help pay for school-desegregation programs in St. Louis and Kansas City, trounced his Republican opponent, Attorney General William L. Webster.

Sen. Jay Nixon was elected Missouri attorney general over David Steelman, a Republican who had focused his campaign on opposition to the desegregation plans. (See Education Week, Oct. 14, 1992.)

A version of this article appeared in the November 11, 1992 edition of Education Week as Democrats Gain as Elections Usher In 8 New Governors


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