What voters sought, change, appears to be in store
PHILADELPHIA (AP) – From Pennsylvania to Arkansas, New Hampshire to Ohio, the electorate turned over incumbents Tuesday like a gardener turns over earth. Republicans reaped an impressive harvest nationwide, but in some places their sweep reversed balances of power where Democratic roots run deep.
The GOP’s reward: Governing a fickle, angry electorate in a time of busted state budgets and high anxiety about jobs and joblessness. And for voters in states that flipped from Democratic to Republican control, what they sought – change – is definitely in store.
In Ohio and Wisconsin, high-speed rail projects may be scuttled. In Pennsylvania, privatization of the state liquor stores is back on the table. In the Democratic stronghold of Minnesota, long-dormant GOP proposals to establish racetrack gambling, require a photo ID for voting and amend the state Constitution to ban gay marriage may find new life. And everywhere, Republicans promised to focus on the economy.
Eating breakfast at a diner near Allentown, Pa., voter Eric Heiselman sounded almost giddy as he described the backlash against Democrats and President Barack Obama.
“I liked Mr. Obama’s prediction of change. We didn’t get the change we want, so we’re changing again,” Heiselman said Wednesday morning. “Which is a good thing. It’s what America is all about.”
The GOP seized control of about a dozen statehouses Tuesday night, including double upsets in four states in which they wrested both Senate and House legislative chambers from the Democrats.
Republicans nationwide promised to wield their newfound power to restrain the size and scope of government and jolt the economy – and said they understand that voters will hold them responsible if they fail to deliver.
“They’ve given us a second chance, so we better get it right this time,” veteran Republican Rep. Joseph Pitts of Pennsylvania said Wednesday.
The GOP did especially well in Pennsylvania, winning a hotly contested U.S. Senate race, picking up five congressional seats and reclaiming the governor’s mansion and the state House from Democrats in their biggest electoral victory since 1994.
Republicans were jubilant – “Now Pennsylvania’s a red state,” party boss Rob Gleason declared – but they will face the same challenges that confounded their Democratic predecessors.
Incoming Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has promised to close a projected $5 billion budget shortfall without raising taxes or fees, but didn’t tell voters how he will do it or what spending cuts he will propose.
Republican leaders in the Pennsylvania House have discussed proposals to cut business regulations, slash the size of the Legislature, and fold the oft-maligned Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission – where political patronage jobs abound – into the Department of Transportation.
Perhaps the biggest electoral surprise came in Minnesota, where Republicans took control of both legislative chambers for the first time since 1972 and ousted House Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar, a 36-year incumbent and dean of the state’s congressional delegation.
Oberstar’s loss was a stunner because it came in Minnesota’s northern Iron Range, one of the most Democratic parts of the state and one that hadn’t gone to a Republican since Harry Truman was president.
Even with Minnesota’s too-close-to-call race for governor between Democrat Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer, the statehouse party shift is momentous. If Dayton ends up winning, the new GOP majorities are poised to block his plan to raise income taxes on the highest earners. If Emmer prevails, obstacles to tax cuts, deep spending reductions and sweeping policy changes would fall away.
In Ohio, the GOP grabbed four statewide offices from Democrats, including governor; racked up a majority of the congressional delegation; and retained a U.S. Senate seat.
They also took control of the Legislature, giving incoming GOP Gov. John Kasich allies as he crafts the state budget. Kasich has pledged to jettison many of Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland’s priorities, including a school funding overhaul, high-speed rail and the government-run economic development department.
Paula Menhenett, of Columbus, said she voted Democratic and was disappointed with the GOP victory.
“It’s a backlash about the economy,” said Menhenett, 62, an administrator at a nonprofit arts organization. She said Ohio is not alone in its struggles to recover from the worst recession in decades. “I don’t think changing parties is going to make it happen any quicker.”
In Wisconsin, a swing state that Democrats won big in 2006 and 2008, Republicans took the governor’s office and both houses of the Legislature – the first time in 72 years that one party seized control of the executive and legislative branches of state government in a single election.
Republicans saw the victories as a mandate to reject state policies pushed by retiring liberal Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle and state lawmakers, as well as the national agenda of President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress.
They called for scaling back state government, cutting taxes and discarding a federally funded $810 million high-speed rail project proposed for Wisconsin.
Incoming Gov. Scott Walker promised to force deep concessions from state workers and to leave unfilled thousands of vacant state jobs to help balance the budget.
Democrats tried to put the best spin on their electoral humiliation.
In Arkansas, where Republicans defeated Sen. Blanche Lincoln, took two congressional seats held by retiring Democrats and made unprecedented gains in the majority Democratic Legislature, Gov. Mike Beebe said he doesn’t believe the results will hurt his agenda.
“I don’t think Arkansans are going to turn it into a Washington kind of partisanship,” said Beebe, a Democrat who won re-election. “If they do, they’ll pay for it. Arkansans won’t stand for it.”
As Republicans prepared to govern, one voter hoped both parties will find a way to work together.
“There’s got to be a collaboration between the parties,” voter Larry Paul said at a diner in the upscale Philadelphia suburb of Wayne. “And they really have to get together and put their heads together because they haven’t done that in the last two years. It’s been a problem and the results are not wonderful.”