GOP wins majority in both legislative chambers

Staff writersNovember 2, 2010 

North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer (center) is flanked by House Republican leader Paul "Skip" Stam (right) and Senate Republican leader Phil Berger as they celebrate the Republican control of the General Assembly on Tuesday November 2, 2010 at the Marriott in downtown Raleigh, N.C.

ROBERT WILLETT — ROBERT WILLETT -robert.willett@newsobserver.com

Republicans made history on Election Day as they seized control of North Carolina’s legislature for the first time in more than a century.

Democratic leaders in both the state House and Senate conceded to their Republican counterparts late Tuesday.

Sen. Marc Basnight, the Democratic leader in the Senate, said he told Republican leader Sen. Phil Berger of Eden that he will do whatever he can to work with the new regime.

Republicans last held a majority in the Senate in 1898. This year, they rode a wave of voter discontent and forced some veteran Democrats into heated struggles.

“In serving the people, you understand a day like this may come,” said Basnight, of Manteo, who led the Senate for the past 18 years. “You are hopeful that the change is beneficial, new ideas, different thoughts. This is only what the people want, so that means it is good.”

Republicans appeared to win more than the six additional seats needed to overcome the Democrats’ 30-20 advantage in the Senate. The GOP gains also appeared to exceed the nine seats needed to overcome the Democrats’ 68-52 majority in the House, according to incomplete results from across the state.

“We are going to govern in a different way,” Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam of Apex, the current House minority leader, told a cheering crowd at the GOP victory party in Raleigh. “We’re going to govern in a frugal way, in a responsible way.”

That pledge will quickly be put to the test as legislators return to the capital early next year to start dealing with an expected budget shortfall of more than $3 billion. The Republicans also will have to work with Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, who has the power of the veto.

In early returns, Republicans were trouncing Democrats in eastern House and Senate districts. Republican Bill Rabon of Southport was winning the Senate district held by Democratic Sen. R.C. Soles of Tabor City, the state’s longest-serving legislator. Soles decided not to seek re-election after he shot a young man in the leg last year. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. Rabon beat former Democratic House member David Redwine of Shallotte.

In a swing district in Wake County, Rep. Chris Heagarty, a Democrat who has served less than a year, lost to Republican Tom Murry of Morrisville. Outside groups flooded Heagarty’s district with mailers attacking him, at least one of which blamed him for a budget vote taken before he was appointed.

Basnight said he would not stand for minority leader in Senate, passing leadership of the Democratic caucus to Sen. Martin Nesbitt of Asheville.

Berger, the current Senate minority leader, is in line to become the next Senate President Pro Tem.

House Speaker Joe Hackney of Chapel Hill declined to comment on whether he planned to stand for minority leader in the House.

He said he didn’t think his party’s reversal had anything to do with a particular policy or vote in his two terms as speaker.

“It was just a wave,” Hackney said. “I was here for the national Republican wave in 1994, and this is like that.”

Stam and Rep. Thom Tillis of Cornelius are expected to be the Republican contenders to hold the speaker’s gavel.

Tillis said it was too early Tuesday night to speculate about who would take the reins.

“We’ll start talking about that tomorrow,” he said.

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