Election created new reality in North Carolina

Nov. 10, 2012 @ 06:33 PM

After the final polling place closed, the last campaign ad went silent and the confetti was all cleaned up, North Carolina woke up to a new political reality on Nov. 7, the likes of which nobody alive today can remember and all of which seemed nearly impossible just four short years ago.

Come January and for the first time in 20 years, a Republican will take up residence in the governor’s mansion. Pat McCrory, the former mayor of Charlotte, easily defeated Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton to become the first Republican governor in North Carolina since Jim Martin served from 1985-1993. The win also makes McCrory only the third Republican governor of the state since the turn of the 20th century. The past Democratic dominance of the governor’s office is pretty remarkable considering how competitive North Carolina is today.

When McCrory takes power in Raleigh he will have plenty of allies in the N.C. General Assembly. Republicans swept to power in both chambers in 2010 for the first time in generations, and now, thanks in part to some very shrewd redistricting, the GOP grew their majorities even more this year.

Republicans added almost 10 new members in the N.C. House and one new member in the N.C. Senate. This marks the first time since the 1800s that Republicans control both the General Assembly and the governor’s office. In fact, Republicans did so well in 2012 that both chambers now have veto-proof majorities, but we can safely assume there will be many fewer vetoes with Governor-elect McCrory taking over for outgoing Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue.

North Carolina saw a pretty ambitious agenda from the new Republican majorities in 2011 and 2012 after their historic rise to power following the 2010 elections. However, many of those efforts were stymied by Perdue’s vetoes and the votes of just enough Democrats in the House to sustain them. With complete control of the legislature and the governor’s mansion now, it will be interesting to see how Republicans move forward on some of the items left on their list from the last legislative session.

It was pretty hard to imagine any of this being possible after the election results of 2008. That year Perdue defeated McCrory to extend Democratic control of the governor’s office while Barack Obama became the first

Democratic presidential candidate to win North Carolina since Jimmy Carter in 1976. Meanwhile, Democrats maintained a 68-52 majority in the N.C. House and a 30-20 majority in the N.C. Senate.

Of course, North Carolina is a perfect example that four years is a lifetime in politics. 2012 not only saw McCrory win the race for governor, but Republican Mitt Romney painted North Carolina red at the presidential level as well. In the General Assembly, Republicans built on their majorities, giving them a 77-43 margin in the House and a 32-18 advantage in the Senate.

However, Republicans should heed the lessons of the last four years and realize that politics is cyclical — especially here in the Tar Heel State — and power can be fleeting. Gone are the days of extended one-party rule in Raleigh and no longer is the state a reliable win for either side at the presidential level.

The safe bet now is that North Carolina will remain a competitive state and will likely continue to trend that way for the foreseeable future. And with 2014 right around the corner, the state’s political winds could shift yet again.


• Brent Laurenz is the executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education, a Raleigh-based nonprofit and nonpartisan organization dedicated to helping citizens fully participate in democracy.