Everyone—including ourselves—is talking about the sweeping gains Republicans made last night. It’s undeniable that Republicans had some big wins in Congress and across Arkansas yesterday. However, I can’t help but wonder if they might have won bigger had they put forth some extra effort.
I’m talking about the statewide races in which Democrats simply ran without Republican opposition. Martha Shoffner didn’t face a Republican challenger for Treasurer. Neither did the candidates for Auditor or Attorney General.
It may seem logical—given Arkansas’ history—to assume that these races would have been hopeless for Republicans, but consider this: Bobby Tullis, a Green Party candidate for State Treasurer, got 30% of the vote. 30%! A lot of third-party candidates consider it a victory to break the double-digit mark on election results. If a Green Party candidate who hardly campaigned can do that well against a Democrat, might a Republican contender have done better—perhaps even won? We will never know.
The same is true of Attorney General and others. Might Republicans in these races have been able ride the same wave so many of their colleague did in winning elections last night? I’m not sure, but I would think out of these uncontested statewide races, at least one Republican would have been able to come out on top.
Why is that significant? The Republicans seem happy with their gains; why should we even wonder if they might have been able to take another office?
The answer is re-districting. Because 2010 was a census year, 2011 will be the year for re-districting Arkansas’ House and Senate. Who runs that show? The Governor, Attorney General, and Secretary of State.
In years past, re-districting has been used to try to oust political opponents of the ones redrawing the lines. Virtually every governor who has overseen re-districting in Arkansas has been accused of drawing Republican legislators’ districts to include as many Democratic voters as possible, and vice versa.
One district I’m aware of was redrawn so that that about the only household left that was originally part of the district was the legislator’s own; every other house, neighborhood, and city was brand new—meaning that when the legislator ran for re-election, he had to sway new voters instead of being able to rally his old supporters.
Having a balance of parties present for re-districting keeps both sides honest. As it is, however, the only Republican who will be part of re-districting is Mark Martin, and you can bet that a lot of Democrats will be pressuring Mike Beebe and Dustin McDaniel to redraw House and Senate districts in their favor. Couple this with the fact the Governor Beebe is still one of the most powerful and effective governors to serve in Arkansas since Reconstruction, and you can bet that if the Democrats do try anything funny with the re-districting process, Republicans will be kicking themselves for not running a candidate in the Attorney General’s race yesterday.