Partisan Control of State Legislatures Remains Largely Unchanged
In November 2020, nearly 6,000 of the nation’s 7,383 state legislative seats were up for election. Come January 2021, the partisan control of state legislatures will look almost identical to how they looked two years prior: of the 98 chambers that have partisan control, 59 are held by Republicans, 37 by Democrats (as of this writing, the Arizona Senate and House remain in flux; Nebraska is a unicameral, nonpartisan chamber).
Though communities of color in Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan beat back Donald Trump’s fascism and division federally, gerrymandering and other structural barriers kept their state legislatures relatively unchanged. For example, in Wisconsin, Joe Biden won 49.4% of the vote (as of November 5th), but Republicans retained 61% of all state legislative seats.
Progressive Policy Victories Were Achieved via Ballot Measure
Voters of all political persuasions overwhelmingly support progressive public policy options, mostly through direct democracy in the ballot measure process.
- Alabama voters removed racist language from their state constitution.
- In California, voters restored voting rights to individuals serving parole for felony convictions.
- In Colorado, voters rejected a ban on later abortion—in even higher numbers than they voted for Joe Biden—again affirming broad bipartisan support for abortion access.
- In Colorado, voters also approved a new national standard for paid family and medical leave, which will begin in 2024.
- In Florida, almost 61% of voters approved raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2026.
- In Utah and Nebraska, voters stripped the “slavery as a punishment” clause from their state constitutions.
- Marijuana was decriminalized, legalized, and/or taxed in five states: Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota.
Statehouses Across the Country Will Be More Diverse
The 2020 election produced a diverse new class of progressive electeds in red and blue states alike.
- Oklahoma elected the country’s first openly nonbinary state legislator, Mauree Turner– and they are a Muslim millennial!
- In New Mexico, there is now a 37–33 majority of women in the House.
- Five newly elected state legislators will become the first Muslim legislators in their states: Mauree Turner in Oklahoma, Madinah Wilson-Anton in Delaware, Iman Jodeh in Colorado, Samba Baldeh in Wisconsin, and Christopher Benjamin in Florida.
- Several LGBTQIA “firsts” were celebrated throughout the country: In Delaware, Sarah McBride became the first transgender person elected to a state Senate. Two other Democrats became the first openly transgender people to win seats in their states’ Houses: Taylor Small in Vermont and Stephanie Byers in Kansas. Tenessee elected its first openly gay and openly bisexual legislators, Eddie Mannis and Torrey Harris, respectively.
- In Washington state, the number of Black women legislators tripled from the previous year.
The pipeline of public leadership is starting to look more like America— but we still have far to go. We can never achieve justice if our decision-makers are older, whiter, and more affluent than the people they represent; only 29% of state legislators who hold office are women and 78% are white.
In many states, legislators are part-time, paid very little (if at all,) and required to drop everything to be fully available for their legislative sessions. This has led to state legislatures being disproportionately composed of retirees, independently wealthy people, and those whose educational and career privileges allow them to hit pause on their careers for up to several months per year without repercussions.
What Comes Next
The most immediate challenge facing all state legislatures next year will be swelling budget deficits due to the pandemic and the recession. At the same time, state legislators face an extreme risk across the progressive movement—that all hopes are laid at the feet of the new President without an acknowledgment that state legislatures have significant power to shape the political terrain for generations to come.
We know that bold champions can make a difference in every legislative context — majorities, minorities, and split governance states — and our champions need resources and support to create transformative change. SiX is designed precisely for this work.
The road ahead isn’t easy, but the work to transform this country is a long arc. We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors and are so grateful to be in this generational struggle.