Fewer restrictions on raw milk sales and so-called “Food Freedom” bills have been popular in Statehouses for more than a decade now. And while these do not always break across partisan lines, it can be said they’ve been more popular since Republicans came to dominate state legislatures.
The change occurred in the midterm elections in 2010, most remembered for when the GOP gained 63 seats in Congress. But that’s the year Republicans won a massive lopsided victory in state legislative seats.
It’s ground the GOP still holds on to today, a dozen years later.
And it’s not just raw milk and Food Freedom that is decided or at least influenced by partisan control of a state legislature. It’s the state legislatures that ultimately decide how often restaurants and food stores are inspected. How effective a state’s surveillance for outbreaks largely depends on how much the legislature is willing to invest in the activity.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the bipartisan organization with offices in Denver and Washington D.C., is the authoritative source for all things involving the Statehouses including elections.
NCSL reports that Democrats did make gains during the 2022 elections, but Republicans still retain the edge they have held since 2010.
“It’s been a good election, and a surprising one, for Democrats in statehouses. Four Republican-held chambers flipped to blue in this election: The Michigan House, Michigan Senate, Minnesota House, and Pennsylvania House,” according to NCSL. “And yet, as they have since 2010, Republicans continue their robust dominance over the 50-state landscape.”
The NCSL report says: “Going into the election, Republicans controlled 62 legislative chambers to the Democrats’ 37. (Nebraska’s unicameral and nonpartisan legislature is not part of that count, hence the total of 98 chambers. Unofficially, Nebraska’s legislature is controlled by Republicans.)
The group also tracks legislative elections for the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“With the four flips, the final count is 58 Republican-controlled to 41 Democratic-controlled. A change of four chambers in an election (or five chambers over a two-year cycle, including the Virginia House that shifted from red to blue in 2021) is minimal.
“Over the last 120 years, on average 12 chambers have flipped in each two-year cycle,” it says. “Compared to recent election cycles, this year is on the low end of normal for recent political shake-ups at the state level.”
Pennsylvania and Virginia are the nation’s only split legislatures going into 2023.
The unofficial final count by individual race is 4,033 Republicans, 3,278 Democrats, and 74 legislators who are either third-party, unaffiliated, or nonpartisan. One race, in New Hampshire, is tied; the legislature will decide how to break the tie in the coming weeks.
In the record-breaking 2010 midterms, the GOP gained 680 seats on the Democrats, winning 3,890 seats to 3,342. The fact that the GOP has opened that margin even wider 12 years later is the political reality.
When NCSL adds in the governors, state control is more unified in either the blue or red column than ever, and the number of divided state governments is lower than ever.
Before the election, Republicans had full control in 23 states, Democrats had full control in 14 states, and 13 had divided control — where one of the power positions (governor, House, Senate) is controlled by one party and the other two by the other party.
The Maryland and Massachusetts results, along with Minnesota and Minnesota shifting to Democrats and Nevada shifting to divided control, put the party at 17.
Republicans continue to hold 22 states, and the number of divided states is down to 10. That’s the lowest since 1952 when eight states had divided state control. Between 2000 and 2010, there were always 20 or more divided states.
It all adds up to what’s coming in January. In Missouri, Republicans pre-filed a bill to ease raw milk sales and interfere with federal bans on transporting raw milk. Wyoming’s trend-setting Food Freedom law is getting reviewed for being too tough. During the last round, state legislators introduced 756 measures related to food and food safety, covering a diverse range of topics including mobile vendors, labeling, and edible cannabis. Of the 756 total filed, state legislative bodies enacted 170 laws and adopted 18 resolutions.
With the midterm election results, the next round of food safety laws has only just begun.