- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 8, 2006

After serving as the minority party in the House throughout the Roaring ‘20s, the Democrats knew their luck had changed shortly after the 1930 elections. Although Republicans had barely maintained their majority (218-216) at the polls that November, Democrats organized the House in March 1931 after the deaths of several GOP members. Democrats went on to control the House for 60 of the next 64 years (1931-94), including the last 40 (1955-94). Democratic control finally ended in 1994 after Republicans won 230 of the chamber’s 435 seats by defeating 34 Democratic incumbents in November, winning 22 of 26 open seats and retaining all of the Republican seats held by incumbents seeking re-election.

Throughout their six-decade reign in the House, Democrats controlled most of the state legislatures — and the redistricting power inherent in state-level control. In the middle of their 40 years of uninterrupted control of the House, for example, Democrats held more than two-thirds of the total seats in both the lower and upper houses of state legislatures. After the 1992 elections, Democrats still occupied 59 percent of the seats in both the lower and upper chambers of state legislatures.

Following the state elections of 2000, however, Republicans had finally achieved rough parity with Democrats in state legislatures overall and crucial majorities in both houses in key states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. In 2001 Democrats controlled the governor’s mansion of California, where the redistricting process protected incumbents of both parties. In the next seven most populous states, however, Republicans controlled the governorships. Thus, following the 2000 census and the subsequent reapportionment, which transferred a dozen House seats (mostly from the Democratic-friendly North and East to the Republican-inclined South and West), Republicans at the state level were able to exert a significant amount of control over the redistricting process. Republicans considered the 1994-2000 political transformation occurring throughout the nation as the Clinton gift that just kept on giving.

Meanwhile, the Republican majority that was achieved in 1994 in the House proved to be far more durable than the two-year episodes comprising 1947-48 and 1953-54. For three successive elections (1996, 1998 and 2000), Democrats were able to chip away at the Republicans’ 1994 majority of 26 seats (230-204) but could not overcome it. After the 2000 election, the Republican majority was down to nine seats.

If history were any guide, Democrats could expect a resurgence in the 2002 midterm elections — enough by historical standards to regain a majority. But the steady Democratic deterioration at the state level throughout the Clinton presidency left its mark on the 2002 congressional elections. By exploiting reapportionment and redistricting, Republicans were able to defy history and increase their 2000 majority of nine seats to a much more formidable 24 seats (229-205).

Instigated by then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the politically brilliant redistricting process conducted in Texas in 2003 enabled Republicans to finally offset decades of Democratic gerrymandering in the Lone Star state. As a result, Republicans gained more than enough seats to overcome Democratic gains elsewhere in the country.

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