While lawmakers said most day-to-day dealings between the parties tend to be peaceful, sometimes tensions between the vast majority and the super-minority can turn into high-profile stunts fueled by pent-up hostility. In Oregon, Republicans staged a week-long strike to boycott businesses in the state Senate. In Tennessee, the GOP leadership ousted two Democrats for bending House rules by protesting gun violence.
“I’ll tell you bluntly: It really sucks,” said state Sen. Mike Caputo, one of three Democrats in the West Virginia Senate.
Caputo has served in the West Virginia legislature for nearly thirty years and witnessed his party’s shift from supermajority to superminority. While West Virginia is an extreme example, it still represents the story of the decline of Democratic power in the US over the past decade, as Republicans launched a nationwide statewide strategy following the election of former President Barack Obama that he gave them control of most state legislatures.
However, Democrats have seen some recent gains in the state chambers. The party won legislatures in battleground states like Michigan and Minnesota and won seats in Arizona and Pennsylvania.
But Republicans last November and this year maintained their control over most of the state houses and consolidated their power throughout the South and parts of the Midwest. The Republican Party obtained qualified majorities in the chambers of North Carolina, Wisconsin, Iowa and South Carolina. Nationally, Republicans hold 55 percent of the more than 7,000 state legislative seats, according to the NCSL.
Interviews with nearly a dozen lawmakers who serve in a superminority revealed that they share a common strategy for trying to pass or defeat legislation: capitalize on factions within the majority party and try to weed out potential allies, whether progressive Democrats or Republicans. conservatives.
“You can wield more power by making alliances to kill the legislation,” said Gierau, the minority whip who represents Jackson, Wyoming, the tourist haven and liberal oasis. “You measure your success by what you can kill more than you can get through.”
Gierau, accused of whipping the votes of his only fellow Democrat, often ends up whipping Republicans as well. He is the more conservative of the two Senate Democrats and has been called “DINO” (Democrat in name only). Gierau has a dinosaur figure on his desk.
In previous sessions, Wyoming Democrats have had luck partnering with moderate Republicans to defeat legislation restricting abortion rights. But that success came to a halt this year. In March, Wyoming became the first state to ban medical abortions and has since passed laws restricting nearly all abortions.
“I get my ass kicked every 20 minutes there,” Gierau said. “We have to get up off the ground. We have to take defeat and move on and keep doing it. We can’t just sit there crying into our beer.”
The day-to-day work of state legislatures is fairly mundane and generally bipartisan. But super-minority Democrats in several states said in interviews they were deeply discouraged this year by their inability to do much about the recent controversial culture wars. Republicans have sparked a national debate over transgender rights, as dozens of states considered legislation restricting trans people’s ability to access health care and other restrictions limiting their public life.