State legislatures see historic shift, new report says

According to a new analysis by the Council of State Governments, the 2010 mid-term elections saw “historic” gains by Republicans in state legislatures. This massive shift adds to the complexities of state policymaking at a time when “new ideas” will have to tackle old problems.

The CSG analysis indicates that the turnover rate for state legislators this November reached 30 percent, putting more Republicans in state office then there has been for the last 80 years. One would have to go back to 1928 to find a year in which more state seats were held by Republicans, CSG executive director and CEO David Adkins.

“Part of the reason for this high turnover can be attributed to term limits, but perhaps most telling is the fact that this year Republicans contested 800 more legislative seats than they did in 2008,” Adkins said.

The analysis also finds there well be just over 1600 new state legislators in 2011, which represents a 5 percent increase over the 1250 new legislators who took office in 2009. The Republican gains this year manifests itself in 19 states who saw control flip from Democrats. The gains also mean that more than 50 percent of state legislators in 2011 will be Republican.

“From a policymaking standpoint, it represents both an opportunity and a hurdle,” John Mountjoy, CSG director of policy and research, said in a statement. “From an opportunity standpoint, there is a reinvigoration of new blood in state houses–new ideas, fresh perspective. On the other hand, experience counts for a lot when you are talking about policymaking and the decisions facing state leaders are not easy by any measure.”

Perhaps most pressing for incoming Republicans, Mountjoy says, will be keeping campaign promises of budget cuts and fiscal austerity while maintaining services that constituents need.

“Frankly, the current math simply doesn’t work and entitlement reform, getting a handle on federal mandates and reining in pension shortfalls are but a few of the fiscal challenges,” he said.

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