- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 22, 2002


Control of the nation's legislatures currently split almost evenly between the two major parties will be up for grabs in several states on Election Day, and experts are predicting possible record turnover.

Democrats and Republicans control both legislative chambers in nearly the same number of states 18 versus 17. Some political experts say that will probably change on Nov. 5 because of redistricting and term limits.

"It's extraordinary," says Tim Storey, an elections analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver. "I expect this election to have peak turnover perhaps the highest we've ever seen."

New legislative maps drawn to follow population changes from the 2000 census have sharply altered the political landscape. In about 20 states, Mr. Storey says, Republicans or Democrats controlled the process entirely, creating districts that maximize each party's chances of picking up seats.

Elsewhere, there were bipartisan compromises or commission- or court-drawn plans. But in almost every state, some incumbents are facing each other or running in politically hostile territory.

Term limits also will end hundreds of careers in 11 states, including California, Florida, Michigan and Missouri, though some lawmakers are trying to jump from one chamber to the other.

The normal turnover rate for state lawmakers is about 20 to 21 percent, but this year, it could rise to 27 percent, Mr. Storey says.

Though 6,214 legislative positions are at stake, he notes, a switch of just four seats or less in 25 states could shift the power from one party to the other in one or both chambers of the legislature.

Turnovers could occur in both chambers in Illinois, Oregon, Texas and Washington; the Senates in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Missouri; and the Houses in North Carolina and Oklahoma.

Vermont's legislative races also have potentially huge consequences: If none of the 10 gubernatorial candidates wins 50 percent of the vote, lawmakers will meet in January to choose a winner.

Some experts say that even as voters seem less guided by party affiliation, the lines have become more pronounced in many statehouses.

"The more legislatures become full time, the more partisan they seem to act," says Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Millersville University in Pennsylvania.

And those divisions can have profound consequences.

"That's where some of the most important policy-making happens," says Ron Faucheux, editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine. "They have to balance budgets. They deal with civil and criminal law, transportation, environmental and education issues."

Both parties expect to pick up seats on Nov. 5.

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