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7 big questions for N.C. politics in 2023
Will anyone else enter the governor race? And will the state House have a 'working supermajority'?
Welcome to 2023. An odd-numbered year means there are no high-profile elections this November, but plenty of positioning for 2024. Candidate filing will begin December 4.
It’s also the long session for the General Assembly, with new faces and new dynamics in both chambers.
Here are seven big questions in North Carolina politics that I’ll be waiting for answers to in 2023.
Will anyone else jump into the governor race?
We know the two major players: Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, and Attorney General Josh Stein on the Democrat side. By the middle of this year, we should know if any other significant political figures will jump into the race, as well.
Based on polling, Robinson has all but locked up the Republican nomination for governor. But the party could very well push another high-profile GOP leader into the race over the real concerns that Robinson would not be electable in a general election. Most likely, this person would be U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis — the only politician with enough money and name ID to make a real run at it.
However, Tillis is not very popular among the Republican base, and his only path to victory would be to pour millions of dollars into trashing Robinson. And he’d still likely lose.
I don’t see it happening. Chances are at least one other token Republican will enter the race — think then-state Rep. Holly Grange in 2020 — and then get thrashed 90-10 in the primary.
The situation is a little more interesting on the Democrat side. Stein does not have the same universal popularity in his party and could be much more easily challenged. However, Gov. Roy Cooper’s political machine (see item below) is presumably on Stein’s side, and that would be difficult to overcome.
In short, the GOP base is behind Robinson, but not necessarily the party leadership. The Democratic Party leadership is behind Stein, but not necessarily the base.
Can the House find a “working supermajority”?
For two years now, Gov. Cooper has been able to stymie just about every piece of legislation he doesn’t like. Through threat and coercion, he’s kept the Democratic caucus in line to sustain his veto in the General Assembly.
That could very well change in 2023. Republicans need a three-fifths vote in each chamber to override a gubernatorial veto. The party narrowly gained that supermajority in the state Senate in the 2022 elections, capturing exactly the 30 votes needed. In the House, the GOP fell one seat short. However, there’s plenty of talk about House Republican leadership being able to reliably count on one Democrat breaking ranks and voting to override some vetoes.
Having a “working supermajority” would be key to the General Assembly being able to enact its major priorities in the 2023 session: Increasing parental power in the education system, protecting the unborn, and expanding Second Amendment rights, to name a few.
Who will benefit from new Congressional lines?
Since the state Supreme Court tossed out the General Assembly’s most recent Congressional district lines and drew their own, the legislature will almost certainly take another pass at them in 2023. This time, however, the state Supreme Court will have a much less activist legal philosophy — and will likely allow the new plan to stand.
We should know by the middle of the year who are the winners and losers in the new Congressional districts. U.S. Rep.-elect Jeff Jackson will almost certainly be on the chopping block, with Wiley Nickel close behind.
The legislature may try once again to carve out a district for House Speaker Tim Moore — and perhaps draw a tempting one for Mark Robinson as a way to nudge him out of the governor’s race.
What’s next for 2022 primary losers?
There are two Republicans in particular I’ll be watching, for very different reasons.
First, outgoing Sen. Deanna Ballard. She narrowly lost her primary (by about 300 votes) after being double-bunked with Sen. Ralph Hise in a western North Carolina district. Ballard is an outstanding public servant, and I hope she finds a major role moving forward.
The second is outgoing U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn. He lost his primary to Sen. Chuck Edwards after an onslaught of damaging press — much of it of his own making. We’ll know by the end of the year whether he’ll run again for a Congressional seat, or if he’ll lay low for another cycle.
Can North Carolina fix hurricane recovery?
Six years after Hurricane Matthew, Gov. Cooper still hasn’t managed to figure out how to provide disaster relief to eastern North Carolina. The General Assembly has held hearings into the matter, but has yet to take major action. If things don’t turn around quickly, the legislature may need to put new leadership in place — which could mean another legal showdown with Gov. Cooper.
How will Council of State races shake out?
Candidates are already lining up for Council of State races — Reps. Jon Hardister and Ben Moss for Commissioner of Labor, and Hal Weatherman for lieutenant governor. Look for plenty more announcements in 2023.
There could be some other major changes coming to the Council of State. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall would turn 82 by the end of another term, and may choose to retire rather than run again. There are plenty of rumors that Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler — North Carolina’s most popular political figure, by far — may decline to run again, as well. Republican state Sen. Brent Jackson is widely discussed as his successor.
Republicans will also need to field a strong attorney general candidate to face presumed opponent Jeff Jackson.
Will the General Assembly pass Medicaid expansion?
For the first time, the General Assembly will head into the long session with leaders in both chambers in favor of Medicaid expansion. However, there are some significant differences in how to go about it, and the House caucus isn’t fully on board.
It will be interesting to see if either chamber chooses to try to rope in Democrat votes rather than convincing Republican majorities to favor expansion. That would be a tactic that GOP leaders have not yet used since regaining power in 2010.
4 things of note
DeViere on Cooper political machine: "Once you've crossed that team ... you're on the outside"
On the News and Observer's Under the Dome podcast, outgoing Sen. Kirk deViere said he's not sure why Gov. Roy Cooper chose to single him out for voting with Republicans to overturn gubernatorial vetoes. Cooper allies poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Cumberland County Democrat's primary race to oust him, backing Senator-elect Val Applewhite.
"It's unfortunate that his team viewed me as a threat versus an ally, especially with the work we were able to get done and how we were able to move things forward," deViere said on the podcast. "But I also learned that once you cross that team, you've crossed that team and you're on the outside and you just need to know that."
When pressed on what he meant by that, deViere expanded a little. "There is a political machine that operates. That's nothing new ... that's politics, that's how it works on both sides," he said. "You just have to know that going in when you're deciding how you're going to function as a legislator."
Gov. Cooper asks Duke Energy for "complete report" on blackouts
Days after Duke Energy cut North Carolinians' power in single-digit temperatures with little to no warning, Gov. Roy Cooper said he has asked the utility company to provide a "complete report on what went wrong and changes to be made," according to the governor's official Twitter feed. A company spokesman told WSOCTV that will include spending millions of dollars to make the energy grid more resilient — presumably meaning more rate increases.
The N.C. political press corps should hold Cooper accountable for actually getting this report and making it public. Duke Energy hasn't made a formal statement on the matter yet, but in a few TV news interviews, a spokesman made an interesting point. He said that generally in a situation like this, Duke would buy power from a neighboring utility company. But with frigid temperatures impacting a huge swath of the United States, there was no extra power to go around.
The company is also set to go before the N.C. Utilities Commission on Tuesday to answer questions about the blackouts.
Coincidentally, the Utilities Commission released over the weekend its plan for cutting carbon emissions by 70% (as required by a law endorsed by Gov. Cooper and state GOP leaders). As part of its implementation, the commission should require Duke Energy to generate enough power to get its customers through a foreseeable cold snap without needing to buy from outside the state. If that means ditching carbon goals, so be it.
Charlotte homicides spike again
Homicides have once again hit triple digits in Charlotte in 2022, WFAE reports. A total of 106 people had been killed as of Tuesday, up 8% from last year’s total with a week left in the year. Overall, though, North Carolina’s biggest cities are a mixed bag when it comes to homicides. The below figures are the most recent available data.
Raleigh: 38 homicides, up 46%
Durham: 44 homicides, even with last year
Winston-Salem: 30 homicides, down 6%
Greensboro: 41 homicides, down 23%
Murder rates began to increase in Charlotte in 2019, reaching highs not seen since the early 1990s. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department reports being short at least 300 officers, while boosting pay to try to get people in the door.
Saine, Hardister call for TikTok ban on state devices
Following Congress’s decision to ban the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok on federal government-owned smartphones, Republican Reps. Jason Saine and Jon Hardister are asking the Cooper administration to do the same for state-owned devices. “This is a matter of national security,” the representatives wrote in a public letter.
This should be a no-brainer. For one, there’s no government need to use TikTok, so there’s no harm in banning the app. But more importantly, there’s a huge data security risk in keeping the app on a public device. This is one of the rare cases where a Cooper executive order is necessary.
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