States’ Political Balance Rides on Balloting

By: - November 5, 2002 12:00 am

Today’s mid-term elections will give a lot of new faces the title “Governor,” readjust the political balance in all but four state legislatures and resolve some touchy policy issues. There’s much at stake, but political experts predict a low turnout.

Voters in 36 of the 50 states will chose governors, and 20 of those races are for open seats. Considering that 17 of the 43 presidents, including four of the last five chief executives, first held the office of governor, no one can be blamed for considering the office a stepping stone to the White House.

And the notion of a “Ms. President” in the Oval Office is becoming more realistic: election drama this year includes a battle of the sexes.

In eight states, voters have the option of adding to the already-assured post-election population of two female governors. And in one Hawaii a woman will end up in the governor’s office no matter what, because both candidates are women.

While women currently govern five states, Montana Republican Judy Martz and Delaware Democrat Ruth Ann Minner are the only holdovers. Hawaii’s gubernatorial race is only the second in U.S. history to pit female candidates against each other.

State legislatures are being chosen in 46 of the 50 states the only exceptions are New Jersey, Virginia, Louisiana and Mississippi. There’ll be a lot of turnover here too because of term limits and redistricting after the 2000 census.

In 18 states, Democrats control both houses of the state legislature. Republicans enjoy a monopoly in 17 states, and in 14 states legislative power is divided. (Nebraska has a nominally non-partisan but Republican-dominated unicameral legislature).

“With considerable power flowing to the states since President Reagan and the New Federalism, the states have become first-line incubators of new ideas and the breeding ground of future national players. This year, because of term limits and redistricting, an unusually high turnover of seats 25 to 30 percent is imminent,” the Christian Science Monitor reported Monday.

There are also important policy proposals on Tuesday’s ballots more than 200 in all in the 40 states where initiatives and referenda are part of the election process. Voters in northern Virginia and urban Washington will decide whether to raise the sales taxes they pay slightly to pay for new roads that could relieve traffic congestion.

Other issues are also in play

  • Economy and Business: No matter which major party candidate for governor the voters of Pennsylvania select, they will end up with more slot machines to stuff money into. Despite opposition from religious leaders, the two men running for governor are looking for new state revenue from the gaming industry.”This is the first time I can recall that gaming is seriously being considered as a significant source of revenue,” says Karen Miller of the Pennsylvania Economy League. 
  • Education: Among the ballot questions to be answered on Tuesday in Florida are two high-profile education proposals. One seeks to force Florida to reduce class sizes, and the other seeks to create free pre-kindergarten classes for every 4-year-old in the state. 
  • Healthcare: Another issue in this election is basic insurance coverage and what role the states should take to protect their residents. At this juncture, Oregon is furthest ahead in considering a single-payer system, meaning the state would hold the purse strings to all Oregonian’s coverage. The healthcare plan voters are considering would collect money from payroll and income taxes as well as from the state’s Medicaid and Medicare coffers to cover the 450,000 state residents who are currently uninsured. 

Meanwhile, voters in Nevada will consider legalizing the possession of as many as three ounces of marijuana by people who are at least 21 years old. And residents of Arizona will weigh in on the idea of creating a medical marijuana user registry card system and establishing a state-run distribution system for cardholders. Voters in both states have already approved use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

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