Historic events often happen when least expected. Sometimes they pass unnoticed until time reveals their significance. But today a historic event announces itself. And its significance if not its consequence is clear.
Today will bring the swearing-in of members of the General Assembly with Republicans in control of both chambers and a Republican in the governors office. That hasnt happened since 1898. And the GOPs legislative control is emphatic with Republicans holding nearly two-thirds of the General Assemblys 170 seats.
While the rarity of the moment is clear, it is unknown what is ending and what is beginning as the party that served so long in the minority will now dictate so much in the majority. Is this a party determined to make North Carolina history, or unmake it? Will Republicans focus primarily on repealing and changing the laws and priorities that defined the Democratic era, or will they leave the foundation in place as they pursue a fresh and innovative agenda?
A vote for change
North Carolinas voters favored change, but not necessarily the Republican brand of it. After a long and deep recession, voters wanted more jobs and a robust economy. Republicans seem intent on cutting spending and taxes and unburdening businesses they think are impeded by onerous and unnecessary regulation.
Thats not quite what most North Carolinians want. Its likely what theyll get. There are some who think the General Assemblys Republican leadership, now free of partisan wrangling with the governor and operating with veto-proof majorities, may be inclined to take a more magnanimous view of how Democrats ran the state. Republicans may see the value of traditional spending patterns and confine themselves to looking for efficiencies and improvements in programs and services. Some of that hope resides in Gov. Pat McCrory, who as mayor of Charlotte for 14 years showed a moderate and practical bent.
McCrory would do well to be who he is rather than remake himself into an arch conservative. His veto pen may be almost useless, but he still has the bully pulpit. He can be a force for a middle way. That approach may lose often in this General Assembly, but its the most likely to win him re-election in a state that favors moderate governors.
Republican lawmakers are a different matter. Some are disinclined toward compromise after years of being shut out when Democrats were in control. Many come to Raleigh on a mission. Their targets are taxes, spending and state agencies. Their problem is that having campaigned against all three, they cant govern without using each of them.
Little fat to cut
After years of a poor or sluggish economy that caused reductions or no growth in the general fund, state government is leaner from austerity. Meanwhile, high unemployment has driven up the need for government services and assistance. The state had the 26th highest poverty rate in 1989-90. Now it has the countrys 12th highest with 17.4 percent of the population below the poverty line.
Republicans claim that North Carolinas taxes have reduced its appeal as a place to do business and are costing the state new jobs, but the state is consistently rated among the nations best business environments.
Former Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, counted as one of her proudest accomplishments that she had preserved the states triple-A bond rating. On Tuesday, Fitch Ratings reaffirmed it, citing North Carolinas low to moderate debt burden and strong debt management practices and its well-managed financial operations.
As Republicans take full control of North Carolina, there is much to be done and much that should not be undone. May it be the partys leaders good fortune, and ours, that they know the difference.