Republicans retain supermajorities in NC House, Senate

Despite worries of losing veto-proof majorities, high turn out propelled Republicans to another legislative super-majority

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
Rep. Nelson Dollar leads the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee Meeting on Medicaid and NC Health Choice in the Legislative Office Building March 1in downtown Raleigh. Dollar was re-elected in Tuesday's election.

RALEIGH — Heading into the 2016 elections, the North Carolina General Assembly’s Republican majority prepared for a potential loss of several seats, while the Democratic minority hoped to capitalize on unpopular issues like House Bill 2 to raise their voice in the state legislature come 2017. Once the dust settled, though, the majority has an audible sigh of relief as they mitigated losses in the N.C. House while actually adding to their numbers in the N.C. Senate.Losses on both sidesAlthough Republicans focused resources on key races to protect their path to further policy reform, urban areas like Wake County indeed proved to be a problem. Reps. Gary Pendleton (R-Raleigh), Marilyn Avila (R-Raleigh) and Rob Bryan (R-Charlotte) were ousted by voters in the increasingly blue urban centers of the Old North State.Still, other at-risk Republicans were able to hold the line as key budget writer Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Cary), and Sens. Tamara Barringer (R-Raleigh) and John Alexander (R-Raleigh) managed to win very close races.The Election Day risk was not borne solely by Republicans, however, as a handful of Democrats competing in more rural Republican-leaning districts succumbed to the turnout pressure.Reps. Brad Salmon (D-Harnett), Joe Sam Queen (D-Waynesville) and John Ager (D-Buncombe), as well as Sen. Jane Smith (D-Lumberton) all lost tough rural races that served to mitigate the Republicans urban losses.Still in the drivers seatOverall the balance of power remains exactly the same, with the Republicans winning a veto-proof supermajority and an apparent policy mandate in the N.C. General Assembly, yet again. With the give and take, N.C. House Republicans had a net loss of one seat, while the N.C. Senate gained one seat as they capitalized on open races.The Republican House Majority Leader, Rep. John Bell (R-Wayne), saw the results as a vote of approval for pro-growth policy initiatives that have revived the state economically.”I think that people actually got a clear understanding of the economic policies that we put forth in North Carolina that they were working and that N.C. today is in better shape than it was six years ago,” said Bell. “Also the impact of what President-elect [Donald] Trump has had on, not just North Carolina, but across the country, and the groundswell of movement and people being unsatisfied with certain segments of government and that they believe that the Republicans can transform government where it actually works for the people.”We were able to pick up a couple seats that we did not have before, but unfortunately we did lose three really good representatives that were not re-elected,” added Bell.Soul searchingThe sting of election losses was felt much more by state Democrats, however, and Rep. Ed Hanes Jr. (D-Forsyth) believes the message from voters across the state should not go unheard.”I think the caucus, we’re going to have to do some introspection, and we’re going to have to, I believe, do some more listening to what the citizens of North Carolina seem to be saying,” said Hanes. “When you get beaten like that, you better try to figure out where the game plan went wrong.”While Hanes is encouraged by the continued Democratic support within growing population centers, he thinks it’s unwise to ignore such a clear message from voters from the rest of the state.”I believe our friends in Bertie County, Hertford County, you know, some of these other rural counties along the state, I think they spoke, and spoke quite loudly, to the Democratic Party,” said Hanes. “We have to start paying attention to what they’re saying.”Come 2017’s long legislative session, the Republican majority hopes to continue pushing conservative tax and regulatory policy initiatives, but must first deal with a biennial budget process and court-mandated redistricting.”We’re having a caucus on Monday to go ahead and start laying out our Republican agenda, so regardless of who’s governor, we’re moving forward with that,” said Bell, referencing the still undecided gubernatorial election.For his part, Hayes hopes to find some common ground with the Republicans in order to affect change for North Carolina.”I have made it a priority to listen to people and to work across the aisle where I could and where it was reasonable and where it didn’t go completely counter to what I felt personally, or really what the caucus felt,” said Hanes. “North Carolina is not a blue state. North Carolina is very much still a purple state.”