Democrats flipped at least seven gubernatorial seats Tuesday, a significant achievement that could help undo years of harmful Republican policy — particularly when it comes to the gerrymandering efforts that help keep GOP politicians in control.
Michigan, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, Maine, Wisconsin, and Nevada will have Democratic governors come January 2019. When redistricting begins in 2021, Democratic governors can play an important role in reversing Republican gerrymandering, paving the way for a more fairer balance of power in Congress for years to come.
Here’s a rundown of the governors’ mansions that changed hands on Tuesday:
Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, the former minority leader of the state Senate, defeated Republican Bill Schuette by running on a campaign that prioritized clean water, improved infrastructure, and reproductive rights. Although many political pundits described her August primary win as a loss for progressive Democrats, Whitmer’s platform is far from moderate. She supports marijuana legalization, increasing the minimum wage, and universal preschool.
Schuette, on the other hand, has encouraged discrimination against LGBTQ people, opposes pollution limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency, and has blocked efforts at increased government transparency in his role as Michigan’s attorney general.
Whitmer’s win coincides with the approval of a ballot initiative that would set up an independent redistricting commission. While such commissions could be at risk of being struck down by the Supreme Court, doing so would put redistricting in the hands of Whitmer and the state legislature, all but guaranteeing an end to Republican gerrymandering efforts.
Billionaire and longtime Democratic donor J.B. Pritzker unseated Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, beating the incumbent by a 31 percent margin. Rauner was widely criticized for Illinois’ financial crisis, racking up billions of dollars in debt, failing to approve a budget in years, overseeing an ever-growing deficit, seeking to cut pensions, and allowing public education and social service agencies to suffer without proper funding.
Pritzker, who is heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, has vowed to undo the damage caused by the Rauner administration. He also supports marijuana legalization, increasing financial aid for higher education, and creating an independent commission to redraw legislative maps.
Voters in Kansas elected Democrat Laura Kelly over the state’s Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a surprising defeat for a red state. Kobach was notorious for aiding the Trump administration in its creation of extreme immigration policies, like the Muslim ban, and for chairing the now defunct White House voter fraud commission, which failed to find any evidence of widespread voter fraud. That didn’t stop Kobach from continuing to lie about the prevalence of voter fraud in the United States.
Watch CNN's Jeffrey Toobin call out Kansas Republican Governor candidate, Kris Kobach, for his racist voter suppression tactics thinly veiled as combatting alleged and unproven voter fraud. https://t.co/Fkpb7AzGar
— Aaron Barksdale (@AaronABarksdale) November 2, 2018
Kelly, a Topeka legislator who campaigned on Medicaid expansion and public education funding, beat Kobach by 5 percentage points Tuesday, scoring even larger margins in counties that voted overwhelmingly in favor of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham became the first Democratic Latina woman to be elected as governor of New Mexico, beating the famously misogynist Republican Rep. Steve Pearce by double digits. Lujan Grisham campaigned on investment in public education, increasing renewable energy, and opposition to Trump’s immigration policy. She also supports marijuana legalization and increasing the minimum wage, and her victory could pave the way for a fairer redistricting process.
Hardline conservative Steve Pearce, meanwhile, voted with Trump 85 percent of the time.
Janet Mills became Maine’s first female governor Tuesday, beating Republican Shawn Moody by 7 percentage points. The former state attorney general will replace the anti-LGBTQ, anti-health care, anti-environment, and racist Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Moody campaigned on continuing LePage’s disastrous conservative agenda.
Mills has vowed to address the state’s opioid crisis and increase Medicaid access (Maine was the first state to expand Medicaid, but LePage blocked the measure).
Democrat Tony Evers unseated longtime Republican Gov. Scott Walker Tuesday, defeating him by just over 1 percentage point. Evers, the Wisconsin state schools superintendent, positioned himself as a remedy to Walker’s decade-long efforts to curtail labor rights, limit reproductive rights, undermine voting rights, and cut public school funding in favor of expanding the school voucher program. Walker was so unpopular among Wisconsin residents that nearly one million of them tried and failed to launch a recall election to kick him out of office.
As ThinkProgress reporter Casey Quinlan wrote, Evers, for his part, “has supported raising the minimum wage, cutting taxes for the middle class, and spending more on public education and infrastructure. He proposes an increase in school funding of $1.4 billion over two years. He has also vowed to ‘take immediate action’ to accept federal Medicaid expansion dollars and invest in preventive health programs.”
Democrat Steve Sisolak won the Nevada gubernatorial race over Republican attorney general Adam Laxalt, becoming the first Democrat to hold the position since the early 1990s. Sisolak, who served as chairman of the Clark County Commission, ran a campaign focused on increased funding for public education, coverage for pre-existing conditions, and support of DACA recipients.
Laxalt’s family members wrote an op-ed in the Reno Gazette Journal last month, urging voters not to vote for him. They cited Laxalt’s phony claims of being a Nevada native, his anti-immigrant agenda, his harmful positions on health care and reproductive rights, and his ethical failures while serving as attorney general since 2015.
“All of these shortcomings come down to a lack of real, authentic connection to our state, and a failure to understand what is important to real Nevadans,” they wrote.