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Drama, redistricting and lawsuits: 2021 in North Carolina politics

N.C. Legislature Building
N.C. Legislature Building

In 2021, WUNC's reporters covered stories like the release of a COVID-19 vaccine, the emergence of two variants, and the end of the nation's longest war, just to name a few.

As the year comes to an end, WUNC's reporters are reviewing some of the biggest stories from their beats in 2021. Capitol Bureau Chief Jeff Tiberii and politics reporter Rusty Jacobs look back at the year in North Carolina politics:

Jeff Tiberii on some of the highlights of 2021 from the legislature:

"We had some more drama, we had some national headlines, plenty of lawsuits. But at the end of the day, it was still a very much divided government... there were some notable moments of bipartisanship and compromise. I think about a budget that was finally signed into law (for the) first time in more than three years, that there was an energy bill that really came about with the major players having a seat at the table. And perhaps listeners will remember all the way back in the spring, there was a school reopening compromise that really brought together (state Senate leader) Phil Berger, (state House Speaker) Tim Moore and (Governor) Roy Cooper. And that's not something that has happened a whole lot in recent years. But it happened perhaps a little bit more in 2021."

Jeff Tiberii on culture wars in North Carolina politics:

"We had issues over masks. We had disputes over vaccines and the efficacy of vaccines. And this plays into the misinformation era. We've got conspiracy theories, and there were some that were pandemic related and some that were school related, right? We had critical race theory and these claims of indoctrination. From my perspective, (it was) more perceived than real, but then it becomes more real than perceived when we have demonstrations and crowds at school board meetings. ...The Big Lie marches on because there are still calls from precinct chairs and people in local politics, but also state legislators who say, 'Hey, you know, we need an audit of that North Carolina election in 2020.'"

Jeff Tiberii on his outlook for the 2022 elections:

"I think that culture wars, while not new, are a way for some Republican candidates in some places to start to distance themselves or find some some avenues away from the former president (Donald Trump). And that is - from the conversations I've had with Republican strategists and politicians - that is palatable on a couple of different levels... I think the culture wars, specifically when we think about the classroom, and also as we think about elections and "election integrity," those are things we're certainly going to hear a lot more about in the coming year.

Rusty Jacobs on redistricting and what to expect next year:

"Republican lawmakers are facing a bunch of lawsuits claiming they manipulated political boundaries for unconstitutionally extreme partisan gain. These are claims they had to face in the last decade. Now, a week before these new maps were even finished, civil and voting rights advocates filed suit to halt the process and postpone the March 2022 primaries to allow lawmakers to revise the redistricting plan."

"The state Supreme Court has pushed the 2022 primaries back from March to May, and put these lawsuits on a fast track. We are going to see the start of a trial on two of these lawsuits in State Superior Court in Wake County starting January 3, and it's supposed to go about two days of arguments, and closing arguments on the 6th. What that all says is the North Carolina Supreme Court does not want to see what we saw in the past decade... In these cases, there is no way to avoid many people viewing any outcome through a hyper-partisan lens. First, Republicans have a majority in the 15-member, North Carolina Court of Appeals. And then you go up to the state Supreme Court, and it's a four-three edge favoring Democrats. People are going to look at these outcomes through that partisan lens."

Copyright 2021 North Carolina Public Radio

Will Michaels started his professional radio career at WUNC.
Jeff Tiberii first started posing questions to strangers after dinner at La Cantina Italiana, in Massachusetts, when he was two-years-old. Jeff grew up in Wayland, Ma., an avid fan of the Boston Celtics, and took summer vacations to Acadia National Park (ME) with his family. He graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, and moved to North Carolina in 2006. His experience with NPR member stations WAER (Syracuse), WFDD (Winston-Salem) and now WUNC, dates back 15 years.
Rusty Jacobs is a politics reporter for WUNC. Rusty previously worked at WUNC as a reporter and substitute host from 2001 until 2007 and now returns after a nine-year absence during which he went to law school at Carolina and then worked as an Assistant District Attorney in Wake County.