A requiem for the GOP supermajority, and other post-election thoughts

November 7, 2018 1:23 pm

Ever been to a funeral where no one had anything nice to say about the dearly departed?

“Well, they certainly were bellicose,” we might say through gritted teeth.

That’s the feeling today, with North Carolina now weeks away from burying the Republican supermajority in the General Assembly.

North Carolina voters handed down a good many split decisions in these elections, which like it or not, were always going to be skewed to the right by GOP gerrymandering. But in the legislature, Republicans may be surprised by their losses today, losses which, presuming the final vote counts are upheld, would break the GOP supermajorities in both the state House and Senate.

“This is traditionally a tough election for our party because we’re in the first term in the White House,” state Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse told The Fayetteville Observer this year. “It’s always that way.”

Maybe so, but Republicans, if the results hold, will lose a number of stalwarts Tuesday, from Nelson Dollar – one of the GOP’s preeminent budget writers – to Trudy Wade, a polarizing Greensboro Republican turned Democrat turned Republican again – to Michael Lee, an influential public school budget writer from Wilmington.

Not everything was sour milk for North Carolina Republicans.

Four of six constitutional amendments – a manipulative, baseless group of proposals calculated to bolster the GOP turnout – passed Tuesday.

And Republicans secured 10 of North Carolina’s 13 Congressional seats, never mind that, when you add up the total votes cast in the 12 contested districts, Democrats picked up more votes. Republicans have their openly gerrymandered Congressional maps to thank for these victories, in races that were always an uphill battle for Democrats, no matter the gobs of cash Democrats raised. It will take an act of God or, more likely, the courts to pry these partisan gerrymandered districts from Republicans’ fingers.

But their loss of footing on the North Carolina Supreme Court – Democrats now hold an iron grip on the state’s high court after civil rights attorney Anita Earls’ comfortable victory – and the loss of the supermajority in the General Assembly will sting the most for the GOP, which, time and again, governed an increasingly purple state from an untenable, and at times lawless, position somewhere to the right of right.

There’s nothing worse, or more dangerous, than a fearless politician. And the GOP leadership has governed North Carolina without an ounce of trepidation.

They rammed through a state budget without a shred of input from their Democratic counterparts, approved sweeping bills like the noxious HB2 crafted entirely behind closed doors, mucked endlessly with judicial races, obstinately refused a federally-funded Medicaid expansion that’s cost hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians access to health care, wreaked havoc with property rights and the environment alike in their hog farm interventions, played overbearing parent to local government regulation, and relentlessly torpedoed Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s appointments for blatantly partisan reasons.

To be clear, this election will not guarantee a level playing field for Cooper and his Republican adversaries in the legislature, who still hold a cozy, gerrymandered majority. And GOP lawmakers are all but certain to use an upcoming “lame duck” session of their supermajority to enact ultra-conservative items, including what’s likely to be one of the most stringent, and stridently offensive, voter ID laws in the nation.

But, once the reconstituted legislature convenes again in 2019, Cooper’s power will have grown immensely. His veto, once a symbol if nothing else, will mean something. It will mean uncompromising Republicans – bereft of their veto-proof majority – will have to compromise, and it will ensure some measure of responsibility for an irresponsible bunch.

To be sure, it’s been a dispiriting few years for progressives on the national scene. But for all the mourning of Trump’s travails, the last decade has been equally dispiriting for the North Carolina progressive, exiled to a broom closet beneath the Legislative Building as conservative leadership ran roughshod over the state’s moderate reputation.

If there’s anything to take away from Tuesday, it’s that progress comes in fits and starts. It’s never a smooth ride, and progressive ideals – racial and gender equality, environmental justice, fair pay for workers, an equitable school system, access to healthcare, fair, impartial courts, and a more kind, just society – are worth fighting for in North Carolina, inch by agonizing inch.

Other progressive rays of light to consider this post-election afternoon:

  • It appears voting in this year’s midterm easily surpassed 2014 numbers, aided chiefly by a roaring early voting turnout. State officials said more than two million voted early this year, roughly a quarter of the state’s population, and overall turnout exceeded 50 percent. Good turnout is good news for North Carolina.
  • Voters in the state rejected two of six constitutional amendments. Not surprisingly, both failed measures were partisan power grabs intended to limit the power of Cooper. The state’s five living former governors, Republicans and Democrats, were united in their opposition.
  • Record numbers of women won national office in the U.S. House and Senate, a fitting rebuke to a presidential administration that has earned its disdain from moderate and liberal-leaning women.
  • A reported boost in voting among youth and minority voters has yielded a more diverse, and younger, set of winners in Washington. Rashida Tlaib in Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota will be the first Muslim women in Congress. Sharice Davids of Kansas and Deb Haaland of New Mexico have become the first Native American women in Congress, and Davids will be the first openly LGBTQ member from her state. Meanwhile, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Abby Finkenauer of Iowa, both 29 years old, will be the youngest women ever elected to Congress.
  • In winning a seat on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, Judge John Arrowwood reportedly became the first openly LGBTQ person elected in a statewide race in North Carolina.
  • On that note, the Democrat Jared Polis’s election in Colorado makes him the first openly LGBTQ governor in the nation. Fittingly, during his victory speech Tuesday, Polis introduced his partner as the “first, first man.”

Progressives made material gains in Tuesday’s elections. As a result, Congress will now be more divided between a Democratically-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate, perhaps an appropriate reflection of a bitterly sundered nation.

And in North Carolina, the GOP supermajority is in its final days. Ashes to ashes.

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Billy Ball

Billy Ball, worked at NC Policy Watch from 2016 to 2020 — first as an education reporter and later as managing editor.