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Democrats shifted the balance of power throughout the states yesterday by taking six governors’ seats from Republicans and retaking control of legislative chambers in seven statehouses, setting the stage for Democrat-leaning education agendas that are likely to focus on boosting public school funding, expanding early-childhood-education programs, and making college tuition more affordable.
After Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., a Republican, conceded his race to Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, the Democrats took control of 28 governors’ mansions and Republicans will hold 22. Democrats won open seats in New York, Ohio, Massachusetts, Colorado, and Arkansas.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican who has been active in national education reform and is the incoming chairman of the National Governors Association, eked out a second-term victory in one of the closest gubernatorial races in the country. Only about 16,000 votes separated him from Democratic Attorney General Mike Hatch, out of more than 2 million votes cast.
Since 1994, Republicans have controlled the majority of governors’ mansions; before yesterday’s elections, the GOP held 28 seats, versus 22 for the Democrats.
Democrats also made huge gains in statehouses, switching the balance of power in the House and Senate in both Iowa and New Hampshire, according to the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures. Democrats also took control in the House chambers in Minnesota, Michigan, Oregon, and Indiana, and the Senate in Wisconsin.
Democrats now control both legislative chambers in 23 states, and Republicans in 16. In 10 states, the chambers are split between the two parties, according to the NCSL. Nebraska’s legislature is nonpartisan. Before Tuesday’s elections, Republicans controlled both cambers in 20 states, compared with 19 for Democrats.
“The voters expressed a real desire for change, and all in one direction,” said Tim Storey, an NCSL elections expert.
Education Issues in Spotlight
Education played out as one of the most important issues in governors’ races around the country.
In New York, where Attorney General Eliot Spitzer trounced Republican John Faso, school finance played a prominent role. A lawsuit there seeking more money for New York City public schools emerged as a big campaign issue, with Mr. Spitzer pledging to boost funding for the city schools by up to $5.6 billion, phased in over four years.
In Florida, often considered a laboratory for education reform, the governor’s mansion will stay in GOP hands. Republican Attorney General Charlie Crist defeated U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, a Democrat, in a race that was, in some ways, a referendum on current Republican Gov. Jeb Bush’s record on education issues. Having served two terms as governor, Mr. Bush was barred from running again for re-election.
And in Maryland, the poor performance of the Baltimore schools became a key issue in the race between Mr. O’Malley and Gov. Ehrlich, who both appoint members of the city’s school board. However, it was Mr. O’Malley who spent a large portion of the campaign defending the quality of his city’s schools against Mr. Ehrlich’s attacks.