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Democrats celebrate crop of new governors who took GOP seats

January 15, 2019
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Gov. Laura Kelly stands during inaugural ceremonies on the Statehouse steps in Topeka, Kan., Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democrats are celebrating capturing governor’s offices in seven states previously led by Republicans, including new chief executives taking office Monday in red-leaning Kansas and solidly blue Illinois.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker were the last two new Democratic governors to be sworn in after last year’s midterms. Democrats also turned over governor’s offices in Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada and Wisconsin, where Gov. Tony Evers ousted two-term Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a national conservative figure and a one-time presidential hopeful.

Democrats hold the governor’s office in 23 states, compared with 27 for Republicans, who lost a net total of six while retaining them in hard-fought races such as Florida and Georgia. Democrats were buoyed by the possibility some victories could signal a resurgence in the Midwest, where President Donald Trump did well in 2016.

Kelly and Pritzker took their oaths within an hour of each other but offered a stark contrast in personal profiles and political contexts. Kelly, the 68-year-old daughter of a career military officer, was a veteran state senator, while Pritzker is the 53-year-old heir to the Hyatt hotel chain.

Kelly’s victory last year broke the GOP’s dominance over state government, and she promised a bipartisan administration — a necessity because Republicans still hold supermajorities in the Legislature. She defeated Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who had Trump’s endorsement.

“Let the insults and the finger-pointing give way to compromise and a hand shake,” Kelly told a crowd of a few thousand people outside the Kansas Statehouse. “We need to put down the partisan swords and lift up the values that unite us.”

Pritzker’s defeat of GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner cemented Democrats’ dominance in Illinois after a divided government worsened its financial woes. Rauner clashed with the Democrats who control the Legislature, contributing to the longest stretch without an annual budget of any state since the Great Depression and driving the state’s credit rating to the brink of “junk” status.

“We must begin a new century with new maturity and enough foolishness to believe we can make a difference,” he said. “That starts with leadership that abandons single-minded, arrogant notions. No, everything is not broken.”

Evers took office in Wisconsin last week, calling for a rejection of “the tired politics of the past” and bipartisan solutions to the state’s biggest issues.

New GOP Govs. Brian Kemp, of Georgia; Mike DeWine, of Ohio, and Kevin Stitt, of Oklahoma, also took office Monday, succeeding fellow Republicans.

DeWine led a GOP sweep of nonjudicial statewide offices after getting campaign help from Trump. He followed term-limited GOP Gov. John Kasich, a frequent Trump critic, and promised to serve his state with “an eye to the future and with great optimism.”

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Associated Press writers John O’Connor in Springfield, Illinois, and Kantele Franko in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.

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