Statehouses > The House


The control of the US House of Representatives will get most of the headlines for the 2018 midterms. However, there’s something more important in this election cycle: Of the 50 states, 36 governorships are up for election. This competition for statehouses includes 14 states where the incumbent is term-limited, and three where the sitting governor is retiring. Most of the more-populous states (California, New York, Texas, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan…) have races. Why, are these races for state mansions collectively more important than the one for House? Well, with a gummed-up US Senate, the House can only do so much. The states, in the next few years, are where the action is. The current polarized state of politics and the possibility that states will grab more rights in the coming months means that statehouses are more important than they've been in years.

With regards to people who want to lessen the partisan fighting, independents and moderates can make the greatest impact at the state and local level. Bill Walker (I-AK) is up for re-election as governor, and right now he’s favored to win. This century we’ve also seen third-party or independent governors in Maine, Minnesota, and Rhode Island; in Florida Charlie Crist switched from “R” to “I” partway through his tenure. The more independent governors, the less control party hardliners have over policies that affect the lives of day-to-day Americans.

To that end, Governors and legislators elected this time out will largely preside over redistricting after 2020’s Census. Many, myself included, would like to see an end to gerrymandering. (I’d also like a solid gold toilet seat for Christmas, but I mustn’t abandon all hope.) We might see a step toward less gerrymandering–or toward more—depending on who gets elected to which governor’s mansion and state legislature.

But it’s not just the usual party politics at stake. The whole role of state government could change soon because there’s a case before the US Supreme Court that is about states’ rights and the Tenth Amendment. It’s Christie vs National Collegiate Athletic Association. That’s former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, that’s the NCAA which rules college sports, and the case is theoretically about a 1992 federal law that prohibits sports betting outside Nevada and a few states that already had sports lotteries. This case will be decided this term.

While sports bettors might seem to be the only ones who care, Christie is about much more than New Jersey wanting to legalize sports betting. It will test how literally and how seriously the Supreme Court will apply the Tenth Amendment. That amendment says, in full:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

That’s all. And nowhere in the US Constitution does it say that the feds oversee bookie joints.

What’s come to be called the Commerce Clause (Art. 1, S. 8, Cl. 3) gives the Congress the power to regulate commerce ‘among the several states’ but has not been interpreted to give Congress the authority to control in-state commerce. Many legal experts point to the Tenth Amendment’s plain language to conclude that if the Supreme Court respects the Tenth Amendment as written, New Jersey will be allowed to offer sports betting within its borders.

At its narrowest, that’s not a big deal. However, other states have filed amicus briefs on New Jersey’s behalf. Even Utah, which generally takes a dim view of gambling and where you can’t even play Powerball, supports New Jersey as a matter of states Rights.

If New Jersey and supporting states win Christie, as seems quite possible, there will be a natural expansion of state-level legislation attempting to wrest power back from DC. The EPA, the Dept. of Education, and the Dept. of Energy will be popular targets of state legislation. This effort will all be underpinned by the new prominence of the Tenth Amendment—and contingent on state Governors not using the veto pen to strike bills down.

Taken together, all these things make the collection of state races in 2018 more important than ever before—and more important that who holds the gavel in the US House.

Shawn says he doesn’t have enough social skills to be an accountant, so he’s just a mathematician. His first degree is in comparative constitutional theory and politics.