Last edited: December 08, 2004

Parties Shift in Legislatures

Washington Blade, November 17, 2000

By Will O’Bryan

In all of the noise generated by last week’s close presidential election, state legislative races have not received much media attention. For Gays, however, these races can be crucial, as state legislators are usually far busier than their federal counterparts when it comes to crafting laws that affect Gays. Only five states—Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia—did not have at least one legislative house facing elections Nov. 7.

Before Nov. 7, both houses in 19 states had Democratic majorities. Today, that can be said for only 17 states. The Democratic hold on both chambers was lost in Maine and Missouri, where only one house in each state remains Democratic.

Republicans held majorities in both houses in 18 states. Since the general election, that count has slipped to 17, too. Republicans lost their majority in the Arizona Senate.

In the remaining 16 states, either one house has partisan parity or the two chambers are controlled by the two different parties—except for Nebraska, which has only one legislative house that is filled with 50 independents.

With many legislative sessions scheduled to start in January, it is too soon to find out exactly what these results will mean. Ron Passarelli of Arizona’s statewide Gay group Community Action Network said he is eager to find out. While Arizona’s most prominent Gay politician, State Rep. Steve May, is a Republican in the Arizona House and someone Passarelli depends upon in the Legislature, he said he is hopeful about what his group may accomplish since the Republicans lost control of the Senate.

"We’re very pleased and we think we’ve got an opportunity for archaic law repeal," Passarelli said, referring to Arizona’s sodomy law, the repeal of which has been his group’s focus. He added that the election results have encouraged them to work toward passage of an Arizona version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Marcus Hearn of the New Hampshire Gay group Out and Equal did not wake up to Passarelli’s rosy outcome on Nov. 8. The New Hampshire Senate tipped from an equal number of Democrats and Republicans to Republican control, leaving both houses with a GOP majority. As America’s political landscape evolves, however, Hearn takes the turn of events in seeming stride.

"Almost all of our victories have come through Republican legislatures," Hearn said. "It’s very much going to be wait and see. It makes it less likely we’ll be able to pass domestic partnership this year—though not impossible."

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