Editor’s Note: New England and the nation have long suffered from an underrepresentation of women and people of color in higher elected offices. In the 2018 midterms, that began to change. Below, Carolyn Morwick, director of government and community relations at NEBHE and former director of the Caucus of New England State Legislatures, takes a state-by-state look at New England elections and some key issues. Also see From the Corner Office: New England Governors Budgets and Turning Points: Reflections on What the Historic 2018 Midterm Elections Could Mean for New England and Electing a Reflection of America.—J.O.H.
Four of Connecticut’s five U.S. House members easily won re-election in their respective districts, while voters in Connecticut’s 5th congressional district elected Jahana Hayes, a 2016 “Teacher of the Year” award recipient to replace Elizabeth Esty who resigned last year. Hayes is the first African-American to represent Connecticut in the U.S. House. A native of Waterbury, she enrolled at Naugatuck Valley Community College, earned her four-year degree at Southern Connecticut State University and eventually her masters’ and advanced degrees from the University of Saint Joseph and University of Bridgeport while working to support her young family.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat, easily won his second six-year term.
Under Connecticut law, there is no term limit on the office of governor. Outgoing Gov. Dannel Malloy was eligible to run for a third term but chose not to. Malloy will be succeeded by Democrat Ned Lamont who edged out Republican Robert Stefanowski by 40,000 votes.
In the Connecticut General Assembly, the balance of power has shifted slightly with House Democrats gaining seats in the November elections. Democrats control the House with a 92-59 margin. In the Senate, Democrats now have a 23-13 majority. House and Senate leaders are in agreement that the agenda for 2019 will likely address paid family medical leave, an increase in the minimum wage and implementing tolls including a proposal by Lamont to impose a toll on out-of-state trucks.
In other election news, William Tong became the first Asian-American elected to serve as attorney general. Tong is a native of Connecticut, born to Chinese immigrant parents. He served in the Connecticut House and was House chair of the Judiciary Committee. He is the first Asian-American elected to a statewide office.
Democrat Shawn Wooden was elected state treasurer. He will replace Denise Napier who served for 20 years in that post. Wooden is a partner in the law firm of Pitney Day and heads the firm’s public pension plan investment practice.
In the Legislature, the Senate re-elected Martin Looney as Senate president and Bob Duff as Senate majority leader, while the House re-elected Rep. Joseph Aresmowicz speaker and Rep. Matthew Ritter as House majority leader. Republicans re-elected Len Fasano the post of Senate minority leader and House Republicans chose Rep. Themis Klarides as House minority leader
Connecticut voters approved two amendments to the state constitution by wide margins. In Connecticut, the only way voters can ask the state to do something is by amending the state constitution. One amendment would create a transportation “lockbox,” which would protect funds for highway and mass transit. The other amendment would protect public lands.
In Maine’s 1st congressional district, Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree easily won re-election with 59% of the vote. In the 2nd congressional district, Jared Golden, also a Democrat, won a very close race. For the first time in Maine, “rank choice voting” determined the outcome of this election, giving the edge to Golden.
So far, Maine is the only state in the U.S. to use rank choice voting. If one candidate receives an outright majority of the votes, he or she wins. Ranked choice voting lets voters rank their choices based on individual preference. First choices are counted, and if no candidate has a majority of the vote, an “instant runoff” occurs in which the candidate with the least support is eliminated. Voters that picked the eliminated candidate as their first choice have their vote counted for their next choice. In a three-person race, the winner is the candidate with the majority of support in the final round of tabulation. In a race with more than three candidates, the process is repeated until one candidate has a majority.
U.S. Sen. Angus King, an Independent, won re-election with 54% of the vote.
Former Attorney General Janet Mills defeated Republican Shawn Moody to become Maine’s first woman governor with 51% of the vote. In addition, Democrats swept both branches of the Maine state Legislature. A record 60 women will now serve in the 151-member House of Representatives.
Lawmakers re-elected Rep. Sara Gideon to a second term as speaker of the House. Rep. Matt Moonen was elected House Majority Leader and Rep. Kathleen Dillingham was elected House Minority Leader. In the Senate, where Democrats now outnumber Republicans 21 to 14, Troy Jackson was elected Senate president with Sen. Nate Libby chosen to be majority leader. Sen. Dana Dow was elected to be Senate minority leader.
With a new Democratic governor in place, Jackson and Gideon are optimistic about bipartisan support for rural broadband network initiatives, finding ways to allow local communities to pursue a local option sales tax and increasing ways to work together on the opioid crisis. Jackson is interested in addressing student debt reform by establishing incentives for out-of-state students to attend one of Maine’s public higher education institutions. Students would receive student debt relief by staying in Maine and becoming part of Maine’s workforce.
Jackson would also like to see a Medicaid buy-in option to provide low-income Mainers with access to affordable health care. He also wants to build a prescription drug importation plan to give Mainers and local pharmacies the ability to purchase
Among ballot questions, Maine voters defeated a question to adopt payroll and non-wage income taxes for home care program initiative.
Voters passed a wastewater infrastructure bond issue for $30 million general obligation bonds, a transportation bond issue for $106 million in general obligation bonds, a University of Maine System bond issue for $49 million in general obligation bonds for construction and remodeling of existing and new facilities within the University of Maine System, and a Maine Community College System bond issue for $15 million renovation and expansion of instructional laboratories, information technology infrastructure, and heating and ventilating systems at Maine’s seven community colleges.
While all members of the Massachusetts delegation to the U.S. House easily won re-election, the big news was the election of the first African-American from Massachusetts to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the September primary election, Ayanna Pressley, a Democrat and former member of the Boston City Council, defeated long-time Democratic Congressman Michael Capuano of Somerville. Next year will be the first time that Massachusetts will send three women to the U.S. House of Representatives.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, cruised to a big win with 60% of the vote, defeating Republican state Rep. Geoff Diehl. Warren also declared herself a candidate for the 2020 presidential election, along with another New Englander, Independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Voters gave Gov. Charlie Baker the nod for a second term by a margin of 67% in defeating his Democratic challenger, Jay Gonzalez, former secretary of administration and finance to former Gov. Deval Patrick.
The Massachusetts Legislature continues to have a supermajority with Democrats in control. Women made some gains in the midterm elections and hold 29% or 57 of the 200 seats in the House and Senate. Prior to the November election, members of the Massachusetts state Senate elected Democratic Sen. Karen Spilka to be Senate president. Robert DeLeo was re-elected House speaker.
Massachusetts voters defeated a question to change patient-to-nurse limits. Voters approved a question establishing a 15-member citizens’ commission to advocate for certain amendments to the U.S. Constitution regarding political spending and corporate personhood and approved a question prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in public places.
In New Hampshire’s 2nd congressional district, Rep. Annie Kuster easily won re-election for a fourth term with 55% of the vote. In the 1st congressional district, voters elected their first LGBTQ representative, Democrat Christopher Pappas, who beat Republican Eddie Edwards 54% to 45%. Pappas replaces Carol Shea Porter who decided not to seek re-election. He formerly served three terms as an executive councilor.
Despite the strong showing of Democrats in down-ballot races, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu was easily re-elected for a second term, besting state Sen. Molly Kelly, 52% to 45%.
In addition to the Blue wave that upended the majority in both the House and Senate, the race that generated the most interest was the election of secretary of state. Bill Gardner eventually won his 22nd term in office by just four votes. Both Gardner and his opponent, Colin Van Ostern, are Democrats. Van Ostern, a former gubernatorial candidate, ran a campaign based on modernizing the Secretary of State’s Office. The nation’s longest secretary of state, Gardner will begin his 42nd year overseeing New Hampshire elections.
Democrats swept out Republicans in the House and Senate. Democrats hold a 233 to 167 majority. Rep. Steve Shurtleff was elected to be the new speaker. Rep. Douglas Ley is the new house majority leader and Rep. Dick Hinch is the new house minority leader. In the Senate where Democrats now have a 14-10 majority, Sen. Donna Soucy was chosen to be the new Senate president. Sen. Dan Feltes was elected Senate majority leader and former Senate President Chuck Morse was chosen as the new Senate minority leader.
Shurtleff’s top priority as speaker is the opioid crisis. His other priorities include aid for school construction, preventing downshifting to local property taxpayers and strengthening the state’s mental health system. He also says he wants to work with the governor on passing a paid family medical leave bill.
Senate President Soucy’s priorities are part of her “Opportunity Agenda” which includes property tax relief, mental health, behavioral health, the opioid crisis and making sure people have the skills they need. She also mentioned a state version of pre-existing conditions, a new bill for paid family leave and a Senate redistricting bill.
New Hampshire voters approved a question, authorizing residents to sue their state, county or local governments, including their school boards, and another authorizing individuals to live free from governmental intrusion regarding private or personal information.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse won a third term, beating back a challenge from Republican Robert Flanders. Both Democratic congressmen, David Cicilline and James Langevin, won their re-election bids. Cicilline holds among the highest positions on the Democrats leadership team.
Gov. Gina Raimondo easily won re-election with a decisive 53% of the vote. She beat her opponent Cranston Mayor Alan Fung for the second time with a well-organized get-out-the- vote effort. She is also the new chair of the Democratic Governors Association for 2019. Her leadership was key in establishing tuition-free access at Rhode Island Community College.
In the Rhode Island General Assembly, Democrats picked up four more seats in the House while the Senate essentially stayed the same. Speaker Nicholas Mattiello was re-elected speaker and Sen. Dominick Ruggerio was re-elected as Senate president. Peter Neronha, a former U.S. attorney in Rhode Island, is the new attorney general.
Rhode Island voters approved a school buildings bond measure.
The state’s sole member of Congress, U.S. Democratic Rep. Peter Welch also coasted to victory. Independent U.S. Sen. Sanders easily won re-election for another six-year year term.
In the race for governor, Phil Scott earned a second term, beating Democratic challenger Christine Halquist, who became the first transgender woman to win the primary.
Despite Scott’s win, Republicans in the Vermont General Assembly took a big hit. They lost 10 seats in the House and, as a result, lost their ability to uphold the governor’s veto. Republicans now have 43 seats in the House, while Democrats and Progressives hold 102 seats. In the Senate where Democrats and Progressives already held a big majority, they now hold 24 of the 30 seats.
The veto-proof majorities of Democrats and Progressives in both branches bode well for their legislative agenda, which includes paid family medical leave, a $15 minimum wage and funding for clean-water projects. Up for debate will be forced mergers in Vermont’s school districts and a pro-choice amendment to the state constitution and establishing a state cannabis market.