Republicans get veto-proof majorities in two new states after recent party switches

Welcome to the Friday, April 7, Brew. 

By: Samuel Wonacott

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Recent party switches give Republicans veto-proof majorities in two more legislatures
  2. Tennessee House votes to remove two members   
  3. #FridayTrivia: How many states require or allow for partisan school board races?

Recent party switches give Republicans veto-proof majorities in two more legislatures

In the last month Republicans have gained veto-proof majorities in the Louisiana and North Carolina legislature due to lawmakers who changed their party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. Both states currently have divided governments where Republicans control the legislature and Democrats control the governorship. The party switches give Republican legislatures the ability to override a veto.

Following the 2022 elections, one party held a veto-proof legislative majority in 27 states. Republicans controlled 18 of those legislatures, while Democrats controlled nine. Veto-proof majorities exist when one party controls enough members in a chamber to override a gubernatorial veto. When these majorities exist in both chambers, that party can effectively enact legislation without considering the governor.

The party switches bring the Republican supermajority total to 20.

Since 1994, we’ve tracked 169 state legislators who have switched parties—48 senators and 120 state representatives. In that time, 80 lawmakers have switched from Democrat to Republican, while 23 lawmakers have switched from Republican to Democrat. 

There are 7,386 state legislators in the country. Between 1994 and 2023, an average of seven lawmakers have changed their party affiliation each year.

Following the 2021 elections, there were 24 state legislatures where one party had a veto-proof majority in both chambers—16 controlled by Republicans and eight controlled by Democrats. Since 2021, Republicans have gained supermajorities in four states (Florida, North Carolina, Montana, and Louisiana), while Democrats have gained a supermajority in one state (Vermont).

In Louisiana and North Carolina, Republicans control the state legislature while Democrats control the governor’s office. Republicans already held veto-proof majorities over Democratic governors in Kansas and Kentucky. Democrats hold veto-proof majorities over a Republican governor in Vermont.

Opposing party legislators hold legislature-wide veto-proof majorities in five states. Overall, 11 states have divided governments—the lowest number in more than three decades.

Republicans gained a veto-proof majority in Louisiana’s Legislature on March 17 when state Rep. Francis Thompson announced he had switched his party registration to Republican, after having first been elected to state government as a Democratic in 1974.

Then, on April 5, North Carolina state Rep. Tricia Cotham, who served as a Democrat in the state House from 2007 to 2017 and was elected to the chamber again in 2022, said she was joining the Republican Party. 

Cotham said, “If you don’t do exactly what the Democrats want you to do they will try to bully you. They will try to cast you aside.” House Minority Leader Robert Reives (D) called on Cothom to resign, saying, “That is not the person those constituents campaigned for in a hard primary, and who they championed in a general election in a 60% Democratic district.”

Click below to read more about veto overrides in state legislatures. 

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Tennessee House votes to remove two members   

On April 6, the Tennessee House of Representatives voted to expel Reps. Justin Jones (D) and Justin Pearson (D) from the legislature—two of three lawmakers who joined in protests on the chamber’s floor last week, delaying the session for about an hour. The vote was 72-25 to remove Jones and 69-26 to remove Pearson. The House also voted 65-30 to expel Rep. Gloria Johnson (D), failing to meet the two-thirds threshold—or 66 votes—for removing a member of the chamber.

Republicans have a 75-24 majority in the House. Article II, Section 12 of the Tennessee Constitution says, “Each house may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member, but not a second time for the same offence…”

Including Jones and Pearson, Ballotpedia has tracked 16 cases in which lawmakers were expelled from legislative chambers between 1961 and 2023—nine Republicans and seven Democrats. The last state legislator to be expelled from a chamber was in 2021, when Ohio state Rep. Larry Householder (R) was removed in a 75-21 vote. 

According to Knox County Elections Administrator Chris Davis, local county officials could choose to appoint temporary replacements for the expelled members to serve until special elections could be scheduled. The governor would be required to schedule special primary and general elections to fill vacancies. 

Rep. Bud Hulsey (R), Rep. Gino Bulso (R), and Rep. Andrew Farmer (R) introduced the resolutions to expel the three representatives from the chamber. The resolutions state Johnson, Jones, and Pearson “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions.” 

On March 30, two days after a shooting at Covenant Elementary School that killed three students and three adults, protests unfolded at the Tennessee Capitol. Johnson, Jones, and Pearson used a megaphone on the House floor to lead chants with demonstrators in the gallery. 

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R) said, “It was an insurrection, and even the media who’ve been covering it calls it an insurrection. They were trying to incite people, they incited people in the balcony to be disorderly and disruptive to shut us down and try to make us adjourn, which I refused to adjourn. We finished the people’s work.”  

In a letter, Pearson said, “The peaceful actions and exercising of our nation’s first amendment rights by Tennesseans was not an insurrection and is not comparable to January 6th. All comments that say otherwise are a disservice to our constituents, mostly children and teens, who marched and advocated for just and reasonable gun control legislation.” Johnson said, “They are doing this because we stood up for dying children, because we are trying to protect the community. The very first action this body takes after a shooting that killed three children and three school personnel, the very first action they’re gonna take is to expel the very people who were speaking out against it.” Pearson said, “We called for you all to ban assault weapons, and you respond with an assault on democracy.”

The last time a Tennessee lawmaker was expelled from a legislative chamber was 2016, when the house voted 70-2 to expel Jeremy Durham (R) following the release of a state attorney general report that found Durham had inappropriate sexual conduct with 22 women affiliated with the Legislature. Before that, the Tennessee House voted 92-1 in 1980 to expel Robert Fisher (R) after he was indicted on bribery charges. 

Other examples of expelled lawmakers over the last few decades include:

  • Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder (R), who was expelled in a 90-0 vote in 2021 after he was arrested and charged with conspiracy to participate in a racketeering scheme.
  • Michigan state Rep. Cindy Gamrat (R) was removed from the state House in a 91-12 vote in 2015 because of misconduct related to an extramarital affair with a fellow member of the state house.
  • Massachusetts state Rep. Carlos Henriquez (D) was removed from the state House in a 146-5 vote in 2014 while he was serving a six-month sentence in a house of correction after being convicted of two misdemeanor charges of assault and battery.
  • Maryland Sen. Larry Young (D) was removed from the state Senate in a 36-10 vote in 1998 following bribery accusations. 

You can read more about elected officials expelled from state legislatures at the link below. 

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#FridayTrivia: How many states require or allow for partisan school board races?

In the Wednesday Brew, we discussed legislation in Florida that would amend the state constitution to provide for partisan school board elections. 

How many states currently require or at least allow for partisan school board elections? 

  1. 13
  2. 2
  3. 9
  4. 33