Craig Fitzhugh strikes a calm tone when talking about the prospects for the Democrats in the November election, even as new district lines drawn by the GOP point to a more diminished role for the minority party.
“We’re trying to claw back in with some positive people,” the House minority leader said. “We’ll just let the numbers fall where they are.”
We’re “certainly optimistic about holding our own, at least.”
The House is made up of 64 Republicans, 34 Democrats and an independent. However, seven Democrats are not running for re-election this year, leaving the seats open for Republican challenges in newly drawn districts that favor the GOP.
The magic number for the Republicans is 66 in the House, 22 in the Senate. If the party can gain two seats in each chamber, they’ll secure a supermajority that would allow them to press their agenda without the support of a single Democrat, rendering the minority party unnecessary. Voters will decide the winner of nine Senate seats. But with a wide playing field of 27 contested House races, the odds don’t look so great for Fitzhugh.
But he’s keeping his chin up.
“You have to keep your priorities, which are jobs, education and people,” said Fitzhugh, who said Democrats can still be effective under further GOP control. “Here before, the minority had been back there on the back row or something, every once in a while lobbing a grenade. That’s not the way we do it. We focus on facts.”
Fitzhugh is referring to the decades the Legislature was controlled by the Democrats, before a tidal wave in 2008 that gave the GOP control of both houses for the first time since Reconstruction. In 2010, the party won the governor’s mansion.
For the last two years, Democrats struggled to get the GOP to seriously consider any of their jobs bills. Only one measure passed.
The Democrats managed to help block legislation GOP leadership was not ready to go for, including a school voucher bill that would have allowed parents to apply the tax dollars that cover their children’s education to the costs of private and parochial schools in 2011. State officials are weighing whether to reintroduce that concept next year.
Fitzhugh said he plans on running for re-election to be minority leader. So far, no one has stepped up to challenge him.