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Western North Carolina seats crucial to Republican supermajority

A green, purple, yellow, brown and orange map of Western North Carolina showing the General Assembly districts.
NC Legislature graphic
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North Carolina’s 118th District was redrawn in 2021 to include only Haywood and Madison counties. Previously, Yancey County was also part of the district.

Republicans in North Carolina’s General Assembly currently hold strong majorities in both the House and the Senate, but not strong enough to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto power. That could change in the upcoming elections, and some Western North Carolina races could play a role.

Over the past 10 years, Republicans have controlled the General Assembly, but have consistently run into trouble from Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto power. This year, they’re optimistic about their chances to recapture a supermajority in both chambers, giving them enough votes in theory to override Cooper.

First-term Republican Rep. Mark Pless, who represents Haywood and Madison Counties, looks forward to the possibility of a supermajority.

“You know, a lot of people are fearful of a supermajority,” Pless said. “To me, it's a good thing, because it would give us the opportunity to do some things that are controversial but do need to be addressed.”

Republicans held a supermajority from 2011 to 2018, but when they lost it, Cooper blocked the state budget for three years over their opposition to Medicaid expansion, which remains an issue in the General Assembly. Other issues mentioned by Pless include gun rights and the upcoming state budget, which Pless says won’t get passed unless the governor gets exactly what he wants.

But this year, those issues are overshadowed by the decision from the US Supreme Court in June, overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling and giving states the authority to restrict or ban abortion.

Right now, North Carolina allows abortions up to 20 weeks into pregnancy, but some Republicans want to drastically reduce access.

“There's going to be a heartbeat bill introduced,” said Pless. “That's going to be the start of the conversation, and then it's going to be a long process to reach a point to where we are able to do what's in the best interest of North Carolina.”

Gov. Cooper supports reproductive rights, and would likely veto any legislation that contains further restrictions. If Republicans can post a net gain of three seats in the House and two in the Senate, Cooper’s position on abortion won’t matter.

For that to happen, Republicans like Pless need to hold on to their seats. Although his district clocks in at nearly 60% Republican, Pless is facing a stiff challenge from Goldsboro native and Army veteran Josh Remillard, who doesn’t want to see any changes in North Carolina’s current abortion laws.

“I think initially I’d be looking at leaving it where it is, at the very least,” Remillard said. “I have an issue with government overreach. When it comes to the Second Amendment, we get all up in arms, so to speak, when the government tries to come into our houses and take away our guns. To me, that same logic I feel applies to telling a woman when she’s going to be ready to be a mother. I think a woman knows when she’s ready to be a mother.”

It’s been a long journey for Remillard, who in 2020 ran against Rep. Tim Moffitt in the heavily Republican 117th District, losing by more than 20 points.

A few months later, Remillard said he’d run in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District against newly elected Congressman Madison Cawthorn, citing the Jan. 6 insurrection and his own military service as a major factor in his decision.

“Every single one of us knew what we were getting into in defense of our country,” said Remillard. “So to see what some representatives were willing to do in turning Americans against Americans and trying to trying to resist the peaceful overturning of power — to me, that was a slap in the face of all those of all the service members that gave their lives for this country.”

Cawthorn then decided to run in a newly drawn district, but that district never came to be, after courts struck down maps. When Cawthorn came back to the 11th Congressional District, Remillard opted instead to face Pless for his General Assembly seat.

Like other Democrats Remillard faces significant headwinds over inflation, which Republicans largely blame on President Joe Biden’s $6 trillion infrastructure package. If he’s able to knock off Pless, it’ll likely be because voters fired up over the Roe ruling and restrictions to abortion outnumber those who blame Democrats for inflation.

In-person early voting for the Nov. 8 General Election begins on Thursday, Oct. 20.