Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP provides this analysis of the North Carolina election as a service to our clients and friends. Members of the firm’s Government and Public Policy Practice Group prepared the analysis and are available to answer your questions and offer assistance on issues at the state level that affect your business.
Republicans Attain Majority in Both N.C. House and Senate
North Carolina Republicans were victorious yesterday, gaining majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly. This year marks the first time the Republican Party controlled both chambers since 1898, when its Fusion coalition with farmers was defeated.
In the State Senate, where Democrats held a 30-20 seat majority over Republicans, the GOP appears to have won 30 seats, while Democrats have held on to 19. One additional seat, Senate District 50, is leaning in the Republicans' favor, with Jim Davis (R) leading incumbent John Snow (D) by 199 votes. If that result sticks, Republicans will enjoy a 31-19 majority, exceeding even their own expectations of a victory margin.
The North Carolina Constitution designates the Lieutenant Governor as the President of the Senate. However, following the 1988 election of the first Republican Lt. Governor since Reconstruction, the Senate Democrats transferred the Lieutenant Governor’s powers to the President Pro Tempore. Thus, the President Pro Tempore leads the Senate, appointing members to standing committees of the Senate and controlling the legislative agenda. This position has been held by Senator Marc Basnight (D-Manteo) for eighteen years, the longest tenure in North Carolina history.
Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden lawyer, will take the position of President Pro Tempore, given his party’s success in the 2010 elections. Because Lieutenant Governor Walter Dalton is a Democrat, Republicans will definitely keep the power with the President Pro Tempore.
Basnight has indicated that he will not stand for minority leader in the Senate and that he will serve out the two years of his new term before retiring. Current Senate Majority Leader Martin Nesbitt is expected to seek the minority leader position. No other candidates have emerged although the election results may inspire competition.
In the State House, where Democrats held a 68-52 seat majority over Republicans, the GOP appears to have won 66 seats, while Democrats have held 49. Additionally, an unaffiliated candidate, Bert Jones, defeated Nelson Cole (D) in House District 65 and is likely to caucus with the Republicans. Four seats, House District 9 – Marian McLawhorn (D) v. Stan Larson (R); House District 44 – Dianne Parfitt (D) v. Johnny Dawkins (R); House District 45 – Rick Glazier (D) v. Jackie Warner (R); and House District 77 – Lorene Coates (D) v. Harry Warren (R) are all separated by less than 300 votes and are too close to call. McLawhorn, Parfitt and Glazier all have slight leads, while Coates is trailing in her race.
Some pundits predicted that the Democrats would hold on to the House. However, the best possible scenario for them is a 66-54 Republican majority. Republicans could conceivably end up with as many as 70 seats in the House. Regardless of the outcome, any talk of shared power between moderates of the two parties has been thrown out the window as the Republicans have achieved a healthy majority.
Republican House Leader Paul “Skip” Stam has made no secret that he wants to become Speaker. He has been putting together a leadership coalition to counter two other rumored candidates – Representative Mitch Gillespie and Representative Thom Tillis. Stam is backed by Raleigh businessman Art Pope, while Tillis is supported by former Speaker Harold Brubaker. If Stam and Tillis square off for the top post, it will be a battle between the conservative Pope wing of the party and the more moderate faction led by Brubaker. The GOP can avoid this scenario if Stam and Tillis can agree that one will serve as Speaker and the other as Speaker Pro Tempore. Word is that Representative Stam will be making such an overture.
Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue this morning congratulated the new Republican leadership of the legislature. “This morning we woke up to new leaders in the legislature, but we all still face the same economic challenges that voters responded to yesterday,” Perdue said in a statement, referring to the projected $3.5 billion budget shortfall the state faces next year. “I believe the General Assembly leadership will join me in my continuing efforts to grow jobs for North Carolinians, to set government straight, and to invest in the education for our future workforce. I look forward to working with them toward those goals.”
No North Carolina Council of State offices were up for grabs this cycle. All incumbents, including Governor Bev Perdue, will stand for reelection in 2012.
North Carolina Judicial Races
In the race for the seat vacated by retiring Supreme Court Associate Justice Edward Brady, a Fayetteville Republican, on North Carolina’s highest court, Judge Barbara Jackson prevailed over Judge Bob Hunter by a narrow margin. Jackson is also a registered Republican, meaning that Republicans will continue to outnumber Democrats 4-3 on the N.C. Supreme Court. Although the Supreme Court races are officially nonpartisan, political observers have been monitoring the party balance on the court, especially as it plays out to the likely battle over redrawing Congressional district lines.
Sitting N.C. Court of Appeals Judges Martha Geer, Anna Marie Calabria, Rick Elmore, and Sanford Steelman were all reelected. The race for the seat vacated by Judge Jim Wynn after his appointment to the Fourth Circuit involved 13 candidates and will likely not be resolved until after Thanksgiving. The race is the first test of the State’s Instant Runoff Voting system. The two top vote-getters are Judge Cressie Thigpen and former Judge Doug McCullough. Because no candidate received a majority of the ballots cast, election officials will now review the ballots of voters whose first-choice candidate was not Thigpen or McCullough and count how many of them made Thigpen and McCullough their next highest choice. The votes will be added to the first place tallies to decide the winner.