Legislative News by Nelda Holder –
North Carolina rode out the hyperbolic midterm election season to wash up on a political shoreline that is at once familiar yet changed.
Republican majorities still hold both the Senate and the House in Raleigh, but Democratic victories took away their veto-proof status in both chambers, creating a very different landscape in dealing with controversial legislation that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper sees fit to reject.
The current House has 75 Republican and 45 Democrats. The unofficial election results will see two Democratic districts handed to Republicans, while Republicans yield a total of 11 districts to Democrats. A veto override requires a 3/5 vote (60%) of the chamber. The new distribution of the House will be 66 Republicans to 54 Democrats, putting Democrats well above the required 48 members (or 40%) to block a veto if the full House is voting, thus ending the veto supermajority in that chamber.
In the state Senate, with a membership of 50, six seats flipped from Republican to Democratic, which (if official election results remain the same) means 21 potential Democratic votes to uphold a veto—one more than the necessary 2/5, or 40%.
Net gains and popular names
Those numbers reflect a net gain of nine members in the NC House for the minority Democratic Party, and six in the Senate. Interestingly, and perhaps indicative of the adjudged gerrymandering that took place during the state’s redistricting, many of the legislative races reflected very solid percentages for incumbents or for members of the same party running for a former incumbent’s seat.
Over three-fifths of the Senate contests were won by more than 60% of the votes, with 10% of those above the 70% mark. Sen. Floyd McKissick, Jr. (D) of District 20 (Durham/Granville), running for his sixth full term, scored an impressive 83.53% of the unofficial vote in his contest; Mujtaba A. Mohammed (D) of District 38 (Mecklenburg) pulled 81.74%, and Jay J. Chaudhuri (D) of District 15 (Wake) took 73.11%. (In Asheville’s District 49, Sen. Terry van Duyn (D) won 63.67% of the unofficial vote for her seat.)
In the House, 70 of 120 seats—well over half—were won by more than 60% of the vote, and 18 of those pulled more than 70%; five received more than 80%. MaryAnn Black (D) of District 29 (Durham) took 88.14%; Becky Carney (D) of District 102 (Mecklenburg), 83.35%; Nasif Majeed (D) of District 100 (Mecklenberg), 82.36%; Susan Fisher (D) of District 114 (Buncombe), 82.25%; and Yvonne Lewis Holley (D) of District 38 (Wake), 81.84%.
Amendment Score: 4 to 2
Importantly, this “reapportioned” Legislature will ostensibly be meeting in 2019 to—in addition to its general business—compile the details that will govern the four Constitutional amendments that appear to have passed in the November 6 voting.
This column has discussed a number of the weaknesses of these amendments, and when the fine print gets added by legislative action, there is reason to think there is a possibility of gubernatorial oversight that results in one or more gubernatorial vetoes. Continue to watch these four on the floor. In particular, since we will now be faced with an amendment that requires photo identification in order to vote, the writing of those specifics must remain under the greatest scrutiny.
To enable the greatest number of citizens in this state to exercise their right to vote, the goals must be as inclusive as they can possibly be, and the rules devoid of any hint of restriction or financial cost to potential voters. This was not the case when the Legislature tried writing voter identification requirements in 2013, only to have their attempt soundly excoriated by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in an opinion that contained the now infamous quote that charged the law’s provisions “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” Hopefully, the more equitable balance now elected to the General Assembly can produce more equitable legislation.
The electorate made a sharp turn in voting on the last two proposed amendments, having to do with the judicial selection, the state elections board, and the governor’s constitutional powers. Both were defeated by more than three-fifths of the voters. These two amendments (“Nonpartisan Judicial Merit Commission” and “Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections”) were defeated in the unofficial vote by 66.87% and 61.62% respectively. Intertwined with diminishing the powers of the governor of the state, these two proposals were publicly criticized by the state’s five living former governors—both Democrats and Republicans. Their opposition seems to have had an effect.
Elsewhere on the ballot
Familiar names are still in place after the voting in 13 U.S. House of Representative races (according to the unofficial results). These saw perhaps stiffer competition than usual, particularly in Districts 2 (Republican incumbent George Holding against Democratic challenger Linda Coleman) and 9 (Republican incumbent Mark Harris against Democratic challenger Dan McCready), where Democratic challengers came within three and one percentage points in the unofficial results. But the dominance of Republican representatives in Washington from the state of North Carolina continues at 10 to 3. And with the exception of Harris, all of the state’s U.S. Representatives are incumbents.
Judiciary races across the state included offices of district attorney and the district and superior courts in local areas. The statewide judiciary vote included three seats on the NC Court of Appeals and one seat on the NC Supreme Court. The latter contest saw Anita Earls (D) take 49.46% of the overall vote, with Barbara Jackson (R) and Christopher Anglin (R) polling 34.14% and 16.40% respectively.
Interestingly, the Democratic candidates (in a situation newly mandated by the Legislature, which has just required party labels for these judicial races) have tentatively won the three Court of Appeals seats as well: John S. Arrowood (D) took 50.69% to Republican Andrew Heath’s 49.31% to win Seat 1; Tobias Hampson (D) won an unofficial 48.70%, overcoming two Republican candidates, Jefferson Griffin (35.79%); and Sandra Alice Ray (15.51%); and Allegra Katherine Collins (D) received 48.49% of the unofficial vote, besting Republican Chuck Kitchen with 46.93%, and Libertarian Michael Monaco, Sr. with 4.58%.
Expect more examination and legislation affecting the judiciary in the state during the upcoming session, but the defeat of the two proposed amendments targeting the judiciary this election, and the loss of power to override the governor’s vetoes, will change the dynamic for the coming two years.
Nelda Holder is the author of The Thirteenth Juror – Ferguson: A Personal Look at the Grand Jury Transcripts. Read Holder’s blog, www.politicallypurplenc.com