GOP takes the General Assembly

Staff WritersNovember 3, 2010 

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."

Unofficial returns indicate that Republicans won at least 28 Senate seats and 62 in the House, according to an Associated Press tally. The current House is a 68-52 Democratic majority and the Democrats control the Senate with 30 of the 50 seats. . "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."

Challenges ahead

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.

Republican Thomas Goolsby was leading Democrat Jim Leutze to replace three-term Democrat Julia Boseman in a New Hanover County district. Republican challenger E. B. "Buck" Newton, a Wilson attorney, was ahead of Democratic Sen. A.B. Swindell, a five-term veteran.

Republican Rick Gunn, a real estate executive from Burlington, was winning his rematch with Sen. Tony Foriest, a two-term senator from Graham. And in the mountains, incumbent Democratic Sens. Steve Goss of Boone, Joe Sam Queen of Waynesville and John Snow of Murphy were all trailing Republican challengers.

In the House, two-term Democrat Van Braxton of Kinston was trailing Republican Stephen LaRoque, a former legislator seeking to return to lawmaking. Republican challenger Norman Sanderson of Arapahoe was ahead of Democratic Rep. Alice Underhill of New Bern, who has served four terms in the House.

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.

Riding discontent

Democrats were vulnerable this year as members of the party in charge both statewide and nationally amid an unemployment rate higher than 9 percent.

State Republicans had an above-average fundraising year, boosted by massive expenditures by Raleigh businessman Art Pope to support groups aligned with the GOP. Freed from limits on corporate contributions by a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, those outside groups flooded districts with campaign mail attacking Democrats and bought large blocks of time on radio and television.

The party that controls the legislature will be in charge of drawing district lines for legislative and congressional seats. The shapes of districts help determine whether Democratic or Republican candidates will have an easier time winning them.

The victors also will have a major say in state spending and social policy in the next two years.

Long one of the most powerful politicians in the state, Basnight was key to the enactment of environmental laws, including legislation that created the Clean Water Trust Fund. He is a powerful champion of the state university system, and helped push a $3.1 billion higher education bond issue. His protégés include Perdue, Lt. Gov. Walton Dalton, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and others who left the Senate for statewide or federal office.

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.

'Just a wave'

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.

lynn.bonner@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4821

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service