As the year comes to an end, we’re highlighting the top ten victories that Democrats achieved in state legislatures across the nation. From hard-fought election wins to the movement for reproductive freedom, 2023 was filled with historic moments worthy of celebration.
Democrats picked up seven seats in the New Jersey legislature on election night, protecting a key governing trifecta and ensuring continued progress in the Garden State for years to come. Republicans worked hard to break the New Jersey Democratic majority, targeting competitive districts and spending big to buy their way into races across the state. But that money was no match for voters who soundly rejected MAGA extremism and welcomed Democratic leadership back with enthusiasm. In the end, all nine candidates featured in the DLCC Spotlight program won their competitive races.
This year, a record-breaking 7 Black legislators were chosen to serve as Speakers of the House in state legislatures across the country – all of them Democrats. After DLCC helped flip the Pennsylvania House blue, Democrats elected Rep. Joanna McClinton as their Speaker, making history as the state’s first woman and first Black Speaker. She joined the ranks alongside historic leaders in Maine, Maryland, New York, Illinois, and Michigan, where the DLCC flipped the legislature blue in 2022, ushering in the historic speakership of Rep. Joe Tate. Then, in November, Democrats flipped the Virginia House blue and chose Rep. Don Scott as speaker – the first Black speaker in Virginia’s 400-year history.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against North Carolina Republicans in the case of Moore v. Harper, which was filed after the state supreme court tossed out the GOP’s redistricting maps for being partisanly gerrymandered. The North Carolina GOP’s entire case centered around a fringe concept known as the Independent State Legislature (ISL) Theory, which argues that state legislatures should have sole, unchecked authority to decide how our federal elections are run, with no say from the governor or the courts. If the Supreme Court had upheld the ISL theory, state legislatures would have been able to rig district maps, attack governors’ veto powers, pass anti-voting bills, and even overturn the results of federal elections – exactly what Trump wanted them to do in 2020. Even the Trump-stacked Supreme Court couldn’t justify such a catastrophe, but the case is evidence of why the DLCC’s work to build and protect Democratic majorities in every state is so important to maintaining free and fair elections.
This April, Judge Janet Protasiewicz won her election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, fending off a far-right MAGA extremist and establishing a new liberal majority on the court. Two of the top concerns driving voters to the polls were abortion rights and the GOP’s blatantly rigged redistricting maps, which have made Wisconsin one of the most gerrymandered states in the country. Those maps have allowed Republicans to hold a near veto-proof supermajority in the state legislature despite consistently losing the statewide popular vote. In November, the new left-leaning state supreme court finally took up the case of the redistricting maps. A fair ruling could mean that Democrats have a shot at winning an outright majority in the legislature in 2024, one of the big reasons why the DLCC is targeting both chambers in Wisconsin this cycle.
There are a record of over 200 openly LGBTQ+ Democrats serving in state legislatures across the country, fighting for their communities and bravely speaking out against the GOP’s hateful attacks. In Montana, Rep. Zooey Zephyr, a trans lawmaker, courageously defended her constituents by vocally opposing the GOP’s ban on gender-affirming care for young people – even when Republicans tried to silence her. In Michigan and Minnesota, new Democratic trifectas worked to expand LGBTQ+ rights, including adding anti-discrimination protections and banning conversion therapy for minors. And in Virginia, the Democratic majority in the Senate blocked 6 bills attacking trans children from becoming law. Then, in November, the DLCC helped secure that Democratic Senate majority, flip the state House blue, and elect Danica Roem, the first openly trans person to ever win respective seats in any state House and Senate. These wins are guaranteed to stop a new wave of state-mandated discrimination.
In April, Nashville was rocked by a horrific school shooting, leading Tennessee state Reps. Justin Pearson, Justin Jones, and Gloria Johnson, now known as the Tennessee Three, to join a peaceful protest on the floor of the state House calling on the GOP majority to take up commonsense gun reforms. Reps. Pearson and Jones, both young Black men making “good trouble” in the legacy of Congressman Lewis, were subsequently expelled from the legislature by the Republican supermajority. Their heroic refusal to back down in the face of Republican bullying helped amplify the issue of gun violence across the country, and in August, Jones and Pearson both won their seats back in special elections.
In 2022, the DLCC led Democrats to have a historic midterm election year, flipping four chambers from red to blue and establishing new Democratic trifectas in Michigan and Minnesota. In 2023, those new majorities quickly got to work ushering in a wave of progress that Republicans had been blocking for decades. In Michigan, Democrats repealed right-to-work, enshrined LGBTQ+ protections, passed commonsense gun safety reforms, and repealed the state’s archaic 1931 abortion ban. In Minnesota, Democrats protected abortion rights, expanded access to the ballot, advanced green energy policy, and established LGBTQ+ protections.
We work year-round to elect state Democrats, and special elections are a key part of the DLCC’s strategy to build Democratic power in every state capitol. In 2023, we raked in a staggering thirty-three special election victories across the country, nearly double the number of victories as Republicans and overperforming our margins by an average of six points! In January, we kicked off the new year with a bang when DLCC Spotlight candidate Aaron Rouse flipped his district blue in a race where abortion rights were a top issue. In Pennsylvania, Democrats racked up no less than five special election wins, each one critical to protecting our new, thin majority in the state House. And in New Hampshire, DLCC went undefeated in 2023 with Spotlight candidate Paige Beauchemin’s recent victory marking the fifth special election win for Democrats in the Granite State, putting us in the strongest possible position to break the GOP trifecta next year.
The right to abortion was THE top issue in 2023 and there are no signs of that changing in the new year. Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade last summer, state Democrats nationwide have sprung into action to ensure that as many Americans as possible have access to the reproductive care they need. States with new Democratic majorities like Michigan and Minnesota acted swiftly to protect the right to an abortion, while historically blue strongholds like Illinois, Maine, and New York moved to improve and expand access to reproductive health care and protect abortion providers and patients. In Virginia, the Democratic majority in the Senate blocked the GOP’s abortion ban and successfully campaigned on protecting reproductive freedom, securing blue victories in both chambers this November. Thanks to Democrats, about 50% of Americans live in states with access to abortion care.
The DLCC had a lot of wins to celebrate in 2023, but the stand out is November’s monumental victory in Virginia, where Democrats defended the Senate and flipped the House blue, clinching control of both legislative chambers and blocking Governor Glenn Youngkin from enacting his extremist agenda. The DLCC was the first national Democratic organization on the ground in Virginia this cycle, directing funds that would total a record-breaking $2.2 million. We made sure that voters were well aware of the GOP’s plan to ban abortion and the dangers of an unchecked Republican trifecta. And we leaned into the super popular Democratic platform fighting to strengthen the middle class and support working families. By playing hard in Virginia this year, we developed a winning blueprint that will help guide us to victory in 2024, which we plan to make the year of the states.
Learn more about our plan for the new year by checking out our Path To the Majority.