|North Carolina state Rep. Tricia Cotham changed her party
affiliation to Republican. (Photo by Hannah Schoenbaum, AP)
Supermajorities are once again more common in the states, and their influence can be so powerful that the minority party becomes irrelevant, reports David Lieb of The Associated Press. “In North Carolina, a new supermajority of Republicans enacted abortion restrictions. In Vermont, a new supermajority of Democrats imposed a climate-sensitive home heating law. And in Montana, a GOP supermajority booted a transgender lawmaker from the House floor.”
While there is no generally accepted definition of a supermajority, “The term generally is equated with whatever threshold is needed to override a gubernatorial veto,” Lieb explains. “In many states, that’s a two-thirds majority. In some, that’s a three-fifths majority. In six states — Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia — it takes only a simple majority to override a veto. But those states all have Republican majorities around 70% or greater.”
“Republicans or Democrats hold majorities so large in 28 states that they could override gubernatorial vetoes without any help from the minority party,” with 19 Republican supermajorities and nine Democratic ones, Lieb reports. The total is the most since 1982, according to Saint Louis University political scientist Steven Rogers, an expert on elections and state legislatures.
Simply put, supermajorities have the votes to enact their agenda, and some members join them to gain leverage or make a difference.. “In April, North Carolina state Rep. Tricia Cotham switched from Democrat to Republican to give the GOP another supermajority,” Lieb notes. “Six weeks after Cotham’s switch, she provided a pivotal vote as the new GOP supermajority overrode Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of legislation banning most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy.”
Increases in supermajorities stem from two trends, Lieb reports: “Americans have increasingly voted along party lines, picking state lawmakers and even local officials who align with their party choice for president or the top of the ticket, Rogers said. At the same time, politicians in power in many states have gerrymandered voting district boundaries to give their party’s candidates an advantage in legislative elections. . . . As parties gain more seats in House and Senate chambers, the political ideology of their middle members often shifts further to the right or left, reducing the need to appeal to moderates and virtually eliminating the need to compromise with the opposing party.”
Depending on a voter’s political leanings, “Some may be pleased by the sweeping policies that get enacted,” Lieb points out. “Others may feel like their priorities are ignored.” Carlos Algara, an assistant professor of government and politics at Claremont Graduate University in California, told Lieb: “On behalf of the voters, it might be a good thing, because it helps clarify responsibility. If you are a voter in California, you know explicitly which party owns policy; it’s the Democratic Party. . . . So if you don’t like the direction of policy in California, you have a very easy choice.”