Republicans captured Democratic-held governor posts in Kentucky and Mississippi, continuing a trend in the South triggered during last fall’s midterm elections when Democratic governors fell in Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama.
Kentucky voters chose Rep. Ernie Fletcher to be the first Republican governor the state has had in 32 years, defeating Democratic Attorney General Ben Chandler. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Paul Patton is leaving office due to term limits.
In Mississippi, former Republican National Committee head Haley Barbour defeated Democratic incumbent Ronnie Musgrove after a tight race, making Musgrove the fifth sitting Democratic governor to be unseated nation-wide in the past year.
National Republicans said the victories, which come on the heels of Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger’s win in the California governor’s recall vote last month, showed the electorate was embracing President Bush and the GOP message.
“We move into 2004 with the wind at our backs and momentum on our side,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, who opined that the victories amounted to a rejection of Democratic “protest and pessimism.”
But Democrats argued that their losses came in Republican-leaning Southern states that gave President Bush comfortable margins in 2000, and where sour local economies and personal scandals created strong anti-incumbent feelings.
“National Republicans should take no joy in what was really a vote to change the status quo,” said Washington Gov. Gary Locke, chairman of the Democratic Governors’ Association.
In Louisiana, a Nov. 15 runoff for governor will match Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco against Bobby Jindal, a former health policy adviser in the Bush administration. The current governor, Republican Mike Foster, is retiring as his term limit approaches.
A Washington state referendum to repeal workplace ergonomics rules, aimed at reducing repetitive motion and other workplace injuries, was approved by voters after a vigorous campaign that touted the regulations rollback as a tool to attract more jobs to the state.
“They probably did three or four times the TV we were able to afford to do,” Rick Bender, president of the State Labor Council and an opponent of the repeal told The Olympian newspaper. “The economy is tough right now. People are scared about losing their jobs.”
In Colorado, several referendums were defeated, including a proposal to authorize some $2 billion in bonds for state water projects and an unusual measure that would have required the Denver City Council to implement stress reducing techniques backed by a Transcendental Meditation teacher.
“Common sense and good Western values prevailed,” said Denver Councilman Charlie Brown, one of several local officials to rebuke the stress reduction proposal, which included the use of calming music in public buildings.
Maine voters largely rejected big-time casino gambling, defeating a proposal by two Indian tribes to build a $650 million Las Vegas-style resort. Supporters and opponents of the measure had spent some $10 million to promote their viewpoints on the controversial project.
In other contests Tuesday, voters in Mississippi, Virginia and New Jersey elected state legislators. New Jersey saw the only political power shift with Democrats winning both houses of the state legislature, breaking a 20-20 tie in the state Senate and widening their control of the Assembly.
In Philadelphia, residents re-elected Democratic Mayor John Street over Republican businessman Sam Katz. Street’s campaign received a boost when it was revealed that the FBI had bugged his office, although investigators won’t discuss specifics of the case, according to media reports.
Voters in San Francisco also went to the polls to choose a mayor, the final results of which will be decided in a November runoff between Democratic entrepreneur Gavin Newsom and Green Party candidate Matt Gonzalez. The winner will succeed longtime politician Willie Brown, who is leaving due to term limits.
Voters in Houston, Buffalo, Charleston, Charlotte and Salt Lake City also chose between mayoral candidates.