2019 is only two months old, but the year has packed a lot in so far in North Carolina politics. This week Governor Roy Cooper gave his 'State of the State' address, just days after a Wake County judge struck down two constitutional amendments approved by voters last fall that mandate photo ID to vote in North Carolina and lower the cap on the state's income tax rate. Amendments to the state constitution could be in front of voters again in 2020, specifically one that would require redistricting to be non-partisan in North Carolina. There's also two open Congressional seats in the state - under very different circumstances. Political science professor and analyst Dr. Chris Cooper of Western Carolina University stopped by BPR's studios to discuss all the latest happenings in state politics with BPR's Matt Bush.
INTERVIEW EXCERPTS -
Reports of Governor Cooper's 'State of the State' speech (including from the Associated Press) referred to his address as a 'soft sell' of Democratic policies. Why did he take this approach? - "(Democrats) still do not have a lot of power (despite last fall's election results) and the governor still does not have a lot of institutional levers at his control. So all I think he can do is try to convince folks. And taking this more moderate stance is probably smart. If he came out swinging, the odds are really good he would strike out."
Two bills introduced this General Assembly session by Henderson County Republican representative Chuck McGrady deal with making redistricting non-partisan in North Carolina. McGrady believes this time he'll be successful because neither Democrats or Republicans are certain which party will be in control after the 2020 election. How valid is that argument? - "I think we've seen a shift in the last election, but obviously a lot of that was brought on by a 'blue wave'. So I think there is no way to tell what we'll be seeing in 2020. Part of it is the makeup of the districts. Part of it is who will be on the ticket. There will be a lot of question marks, but what I think we know is that (Raleigh) is unlikely to be as solidly Republican as it was a few years ago."
A Wake County judge struck down two constitutional amendments passed by voters last fall, but left two others that were OK'd on the books. Regardless of any appeals and how the case winds up, what effect will this have on North Carolina politics going forward? - "Certainly the voter ID amendment was the most contentious of any the six amendments put to voters. I think what we're trying to figure out is if this holds up, what does it mean for the other amendments, but also for all sorts of legislative actions that are created (by the lawmakers elected) from these districts."
Three high profile Republicans have passed on running in the new 9th Congressional district race, including Mark Harris who ran in last year's election that was thrown out. What kind of candidate will Republicans put up? - "This is a fascinating field. You have the last two Republicans to be the nominee in that district (Harris and former Congressman Robert Pittenger) both saying they're not going to run (in addition to former governor Pat McCrory). Democrat Dan McCready is saying he will run again, and on the Republican side the most prominent candidate is Union County commissioner Stony Rushing. He acts as if he is Boss Hogg (from the TV show 'Dukes Of Hazzard'). I mean that in the most literal sense. He wears the white suit of Boss Hogg. And he owns a gun range south of the North Carolina border. He is someone who has been popular. He received the most votes of any commissioner in last year's Union County election."
A special election will also be held in North Carolina's 3rd Congressional district this year following the death of longtime incumbent Republican Walter Jones. How is that race shaping up? - "There's a really crowded Republican field (includes three members of the General Assembly). This is a very Republican-leaning district. Walter Jones had the repuation, and the evidence supports, that he was a very moderate member of Congress. He had a more liberal voting record than 97% of Republicans in Congress. He was a moderate, he was a centrist. The group running to replace him tend to be toward the right of our General Assembly. I think no matter what happens we're going to see a more ideologically extreme member of Congress."