NC Politics Roundup: General Assembly Gets Down To Business While 2020 Ballot Takes Shape

Jan 30, 2019

The North Carolina General Assembly reconvened Wednesday in Raleigh, and bills for the coming session began to be introduced.  The power dynamic in Raleigh is much different this year, as Democrats were able to break Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly in the 2018 legislative elections.  That means the GOP will not be able to override vetoes from Democratic Governor Roy Cooper along party line votes, as they had done numerous times during Cooper's first two years in office. 

And while we'll just now start to see the effect of the 2018 election in Raleigh, the ballot is beginning to take shape for the 2020 election.  Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and Republican U.S. Senator Thom Tillis will both be running for re-election, and potential general election opponents start declaring their candidacies this week.  Joining us to talk about all the happenings in North Carolina politics is Dr. Chris Cooper, the chair of Western Carolina Univeristy's political science department.

EXCERPTS OF INTERVIEW -

With a new split power dynamic between the General Assembly and Governor Roy Cooper, what might get done over the next two years? - "What will be produced is a lot less than otherwise.  So I think what we're looking at is a lot of stalemate.  We have divided control.  There are 13 states in the country that have divided control, so it's not just North Carolina.  This will be a big change from what we've seen in the last few years with supermajority control.  So I expect we'll see less passed, and what does get passed will take a lot longer."

Will either party get close to passing its legislative priorities? - "It seems very unlikely.  I think what we'll see is a lot of stalemate.  I think what we'll see is the General Assembly put a lot of bills on the governor's desk that may sell well to the public, and I think we'll see Governor Cooper vetoing those bills."

The favorite to be Governor Cooper's general election opponent in 2020 took a step forward in declaring his candidacy this week.  What can you tell us about Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest? - "This was the worst kept secret in North Carolina that Dan Forest was in fact going to run for governor.  Obviously Governor Cooper's election last time was extraordinarily close - among the closest election's in the country.  Forest has all the makings of a good candidate.  He has experience, he's got fundraising networks, and he's got name recognition.  I think we'll see an expensive campaign, and I think we'll see a tight campaign."

Republican U.S. Senator Thom Tillis will also be running for re-election in 2020?  What are his prospects now at winning a second term? - "I think we'll see another close race.  Tillis is the incumbent, and he'll have all the advantages an incumbent would have.  He'll be able to claim credit for anything good that is coming from the federal government to North Carolina.  At the same time this is a very tight state.  North Carolina is a swing state, a purple state, a state that national people know could go either way."

State senator Erica Smith of Northampton County and Mecklenburg County commissioner Trevor Fuller both announced this month they will seek the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate next year.  There are a few others that may follow suit.  What kind of Democratic candidate would be successful against Tillis? - "It will be somebody who has experience.  Smith is a multi-term North Carolina state senator, so she has a good bit of experience and can make a good argument for what she has been able to do for the state.  It's not impossible but more unlikely that a county commissioner would have success running statewide.  I think we'll see some more traditional candidates come out (soon).  What I mean by traditional are folks who have held fairly high offices in state - state senate, state house, or council of state."

Asheville mayor Esther Manheimer said at the end of the last city council meeting this month that the city is seeking legal advice as leaders mull legal action on the creation of city council election districts for next year's election.  Would the city be successful if it took the matter to court? - "It's certainly possible that they could overturn the law.  I think this illustrates a bigger trend we've seen in North Carolina, which is the state government trying to tell local governments what to do more, to remind the local governments they are just creatures of the state.  So this 'federalism' fight has happened in North Carolina over the few years, and it hasn't received the attention other issues have.  But I think this particular issue highlights what is a real clear fault line in North Carolina politics."