Commentary

Christensen: Hagan, Rouzer, GOP legislature, teachers will win in 2014

rchristensen@newsobserver.comDecember 31, 2013 

Every year I get out my cracked crystal ball and try to predict what will happen in the new year in the world of North Carolina government and politics. It is often a humbling experience.

Last year, I correctly predicted:

• The Republican legislature would pass a new law requiring voters to produce photo identification at the polls.

• That despite all the talk of major tax reform, the GOP legislature would settle for more traditional cuts in the corporate and personal income tax rates.

• That the legislature would move forward with legislation to push offshore drilling and fracking in shale deposits, but that such exploration would still be years away from occurring.

• That House Speaker Thom Tillis would declare his intention to challenge Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.

• That the state would keep its financial and tax incentives for attracting industry.

• That the legislature would financially fix the unemployment insurance system by making workers rather than employers pay.

Now for what I got wrong.

I predicted the legislature would pass a law making it easier for teachers to carry guns in schools. They didn’t. I predicted that Democratic challenges to the GOP redistricting plans of the legislature would be unsuccessful. The case has yet to be heard.

Now for my predictions for 2014.

• After taking a battering in the polls, the GOP-led legislature will move a few short steps toward the center for the election year. Among other things, they will pass a 2 percent pay raise for public school teachers.

• The legislature will also restore the additional pay for teachers who earn a master’s degree – a benefit it cut in 2013 that had been in existence since the 1940s.

• House Speaker Thom Tillis and Charlotte Pastor Mark Harris will emerge from a Republican primary on May 6 with neither receiving the necessary 40 percent to capture the nomination outright.

• Tillis will win the runoff, tentatively set for July 15. Tillis is not a beloved figure in the GOP, but he has most of the support of the party leadership, will be the best financed, and will look like the Republican’s best chance of knocking off Hagan.

• Calling the November Senate race is difficult. Hagan looks vulnerable, the new health care law is unpopular, and history is against the Democrats. But Hagan wins anyway, in part because the Democrats have the anger factor, which is a powerful force in politics. This year will be the Democrats’ tea party moment, just like 2010 was the Republicans’ tea party moment.

• Democrats will make only modest gains in the legislature because of the GOP’s advantages in redistricting and money. The Senate goes from 33-17 Republican to 29-21 Republican, and the House goes from 77-43 Republican to 66-52 Republican.

• Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre of Lumberton finds it too difficult to hold on in the Republican-designed 7th District without Obama on the ballot. He loses to Republican David Rouzer in a rematch of their 2012 race.

• Running to replace 12th District Democratic U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, state Sen. Malcolm Graham of Charlotte wins, taking advantage of the Charlotte-centric district. But it will take a runoff to defeat state Rep. Alma Adams of Greensboro. Watt is taking over the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

• It is hard to predict a successor for 6th District Republican U.S. Rep. Howard Coble, who is retiring, because the field is still unsettled. But as it now stands, I would give the edge to Phil Berger Jr., a local district attorney who is the son of the powerful Republican Senate boss.

Christensen: 919-829-4532 or rchristensen@newsobserver.com

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