By Matt Walter
In last week’s Roll Call, Stuart Rothenberg waded into the critically important, yet under-reported topic of state and local elections (“RSLC Presents GOP State Level Gains Out of Context,” Roll Call, April 8). It’s exciting to see a well-respected federal elections analyst give attention to the levels of government that have the most pointed impact on people’s homes, jobs, roads and children’s education. Unfortunately, Rothenberg’s analysis of two recent local Republican victories in Democratic territory fundamentally misses current state-level trends and is simply inaccurate when it refers to these races as taking place in “competitive or even Republican-leaning districts.”
In Pennsylvania, Rothenberg misunderstood Martina White’s victory to become the second House Republican from Philadelphia when he attributed it in part to a “split in the Democratic Party.” In truth, this talented 26-year-old financial adviser ran a better campaign and won because she was the right candidate, with a clear vision for a better future for her district. White brought together an unexpected coalition of voters from both sides of the political aisle to carry her to victory in a district President Barack Obama won by nearly 15 points.
Her win was neither easy nor insignificant. A Republican has not won the 170th District seat since George W. Bush was in the White House in 2006 when Democratic voter registration outweighed Republicans 53 percent to 39 percent. Following almost 10 years of growing registration on the Democratic side and redistricting, White took the seat back for our party this year when Democratic registration now outweighs Republicans by 30 points.
In California, Rothenberg correctly noted Andrew Do’s race saw “enthusiastic support” from his former boss, current state Sen. Janet Nguyen who previously held Do’s Board of Supervisors seat. Having the support of Nguyen — who won her senate race last November by 16 points in a district Obama carried by nearly 9 points — is welcome when trying to keep a supervisors’ seat in a district where registered Democrats outweigh Republicans. Do campaigned tirelessly and fought for the votes of those in his community by sharing his message of open and innovative governing. In the end, he turned out enough voters in an extremely close race to beat a better-known, formerly-elected Democrat. The Democrat he beat even held this same supervisor seat immediately before Nguyen.
Rothenberg also missed the broad impact of Nguyen’s story: Her recent election to the state senate made her the country’s first Vietnamese-American woman state legislator and was one of the key wins that broke the Democratic super-majority in the California Senate. She won by sharing a deep commitment to delivering results on state and local issues in an era when Americans are supporting responsive local government.
These wins are significant as the latest in a trend in our party that began when Obama controlled a completely Democratic federal government in 2008, leading to unchecked growth in government, federal overreach into the states and the passage of Obamacare. Voters rejected that old top-down, one-size-fits-all Democratic approach and have since welcomed the bottom-up, innovative and open solutions being implemented by state and local Republicans. Voters embraced a new type of Republican candidate — like White, Do and Nguyen — running different kinds of races for a better type of government.
In the 2010 election cycle, Republicans flipped 21 state legislative chambers, taking control of more legislative seats than any time since 1928. In 2011 and 2012, Republicans again had a net gain in state legislative chambers. And for a third-straight cycle of expansion, Republicans in 2014 won control of more chambers than they have ever held in history — a super-majority of legislative majorities with 69 out of 99 state chambers. 23 of those majority chambers are in states Obama won twice.
Each race and each win matters and continues moving state and local governments toward effective and responsive governing that makes a tangible difference in people’s lives. Over the past three cycles, Republicans have netted more than 900 new legislative seats. New victories such as the recent wins in Philadelphia and California are a further progression of this six-year trend.
It’s easy to forget in Washington that effective politics results from the right leaders delivering the right policies that make people’s lives better. That’s how Republicans at the state level have reached historic highs across red, purple and even blue states. That’s how White, Do and Nguyen were elected. And as long as state and local Republicans continue delivering effective local leadership while the old, top-down Democratic bureaucracy reigns in Washington, Republican governing will continue to succeed and spread, one seat at a time.
Matt Walter is president of the Republican State Leadership Committee.
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