A Flood of New Faces: Election 2002 Will Bring Peak Turnover in Legislatures, What with Redistricting and Term Limits Kicking In
Storey, Tim, State Legislatures
The 2002 state elections are going to look like the old saying about what brides should wear ON their wedding day--something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.
Old issue are back again. Education, health care and the economy are foremost on voters' minds.
Something new for this year are freshly minted districts using census data from 2000. Candidates; and especially incumbents, often must court new constituencies. Redistricting brings a sharp increase in turnover as members decide to retire rather than face a fellow incumbent; move to an unfamiliar district or put the extra Work into campaigning in new territory.
Republicans are hoping to trade on George Bush's soaring popularity. The GOP would love to halt the more-than-60-year trend of the president's party losing legislative seats in mid-term elections.
And who knows which party will be singing the blues when they wake up on Nov. 6?
Pollsters say that voters beleaguered by worries about terrorism are focusing once again on local concerns where state legislatures are most involved. "The big issues everywhere will be budget shortfalls, taxes and education spending," says political scientist Gary Moncrief of Boise State University.
Ed Sarpolus, vice president of EPIC/MRA, a Michigan-based polling organization, says "bioterrorism is at the bottom" of the list. Hi Midwestern polling data shows "health care and education are back at the top of the list of issues that people think are most important."
In Pennsylvania, it's the same story. "Voters are telling us they care about the economy and education," says Terry Madonna, director of the Keystone Poll out of Millersville University. Madonna expects the legislative campaigns there to be dominated by talk of property tax reform and prescription drug benefits for seniors. "A lot of the same issues that drove 2000 are still present in the mid-term election this year," says Sarpolus.
2002 is the post-redistricting free-for-all, With the exceptions of Maine and Montana, every legislative district has been redrawn in the past 18 months. Incumbents have to learn new territory and often face unknown challengers. Or worse yet, face a fellow incumbent, never an easy road, especially in a primary.
In Alaska, Idaho, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington, where courts or independent commissions drew redistricting plans, many incumbents got paired in the same districts. Many have opted to retire rather than face another legislator. The Iowa redistricting process is the cruelest to incumbents. There, districts are drawn by nonpartisan legislative staff who are forbidden by law from factoring in incumbent addresses.
As a result, 39 of 100 I-louse members and 25 of 50 senators wound up in the same district as a fellow incumbent. Redistricting always pushes turnover up. "In Alaska, for example, turnover this year will be at least 35 percent," says Moncrief.
The high turnover in Alaska is likely to be repeated in other states, leading to more new faces than legislatures have seen in years. Expect 2002 turnover to exceed the last high water mark of more than 25 percent set in 1992. That year, extensive changes to legislative maps were driven largely by the creation of a record number of districts containing a majority of minority voters. The average for legislative turnover is around 18 percent every two years.
This year, redistricting and legislative term limits converge for the proverbial double whammy. In 11 states, some 330 legislators must step aside because of term limits. That's 4.5 percent turnover before the first ballot is cast.
Term limits hit two legislative chambers especially hard as they go into effect for the first time: the Michigan Senate and Missouri House. Twenty-seven of the current 38 Michigan senators are prohibited from running--a pre-election turnover of more than 70 percent. …