NC Democrats break GOP supermajorities

Cooper’s newly effective veto pen gives Democrats hand in state’s governance

Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday, February 14, 2018 in Raleigh.

RALEIGH — Last week, the North Carolina Democratic Party broke a Republican supermajority in the General Assembly, giving them real power over state governance for the first time since the 2010 elections. A supermajority requires three-fifths of the members of a chamber, which Republicans held with a 75-45 majority in the House and a 35-15 majority in the Senate. Although the numbers haven’t been finalized, the returns suggest a 66-54 majority in the House and 29-21 majority in the Senate for Republicans.

Without the three-fifths supermajority in both chambers, Republicans will no longer be able to override vetoes from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Their options will be to either try to peel off some more conservative members from the Democratic caucus to support their positions or to negotiate with the Democratic leadership. There will be pressure on the members of the House and Senate Democratic caucuses not to break ranks so they can make use of this potential power.

The loss of Republican seats came largely from losses in the growing Charlotte, Triad and Triangle areas. In the Charlotte area, Republicans lost two House seats, with Rep. Andy Dulin of the 104th District and Rep. Scott Stone of the 105th both falling, and one state Senate seat, with Sen. Jeff Tarte of District 41 losing. Rep. Bill Brawley, also a Republican from Mecklenburg County, is currently in a too-close-to-call race with Rachel Hunt, former Gov. Jim Hunt’s daughter.

Wake County also had some significant losses for the GOP, with the House’s powerful budget chair, Nelson Dollar, losing his seat and two of the six Senate pickups for Democrats also coming from the county.

For the first time in almost a decade, Democrats can begin crafting an agenda with some confidence that portions of it will be made law. Democratic House leader Darren Jackson told the North State Journal that education funding and Medicaid expansion are their two main focuses. The governor’s office, in a post-election statement, also named specific policy areas they plan on pursuing.

“Governor Cooper is ready to work with Democrats and Republicans to invest more in education and clean water, to create better paying jobs, to expand access to health care and to help our state recover from the recent devastating hurricanes,” Cooper’s office printed in a press release.

Republicans remain the majority in both chambers, so the power to create and pass legislation still lies largely in their hands. The Democrats’ breaking of the supermajority and presence in the Executive Mansion, however, gives them a seat at the table for all significant discussions.

“If Republicans want to get anything done, they will need to work out compromises with Democrats,” wrote Jackson in comments to the North State Journal. “If they do, we can make progress. If they continue with a ‘my way or the highway’ approach, nothing will get done.”

North Carolina Republican executive director Dallas Woodhouse saw no reason for GOP despair though, saying in a tweet, “@ncgop holds strong majorities in both #ncga chambers. Holds all congressional seats. Passes 4 of 6 Amendments. Not Bad. Not Bad at all. Wins 95 of 170 Legislative seats.”

In a statement to the North State Journal, Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) struck a similar tone, pointing to recent Republican policy successes and the remaining majorities in both chambers, but ended with acknowledgement of the new dynamic.

“I am hopeful that we can continue to collaborate with the executive branch like we have on Hurricane Florence recovery,” Berger wrote. “I’m sure we will have disagreements, but it’s important that we work through them in good faith.”

The legislature is scheduled to convene on Nov. 27 before the new legislature is installed after the first of the year.