“Anticlimactic” is a good way to describe the results of state House and Senate races across North Carolina earlier this month.
Republicans gained one seat in the Senate for a 34-16 margin over Democrats for the next two years. Democrats netted three seats in the House, but the GOP will hold a 74-46 majority there for the 2015-16 legislative session, which begins in January.
That means Republicans maintained veto-proof majorities in both chambers, and 2015-16 might look a lot like 2013-14 when it comes to legislative activity. Rep. Edgar Starnes of Caldwell County, the House majority leader, said as results rolled in that he expects General Assembly Republicans will continue to focus on smaller government, lower taxes and fewer regulations for two more years.
Of course, despite little change in the General Assembly makeup, both parties and their supporters trumpeted the election as a success for their side. Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, said voters gave his chamber a mandate to continue in the same direction as the past four years. “It indicates that the public is pleased with the policies we’ve implemented,” he said.
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On the other side, Gerrick Brenner of the liberal advocacy group Progress North Carolina Action said the election showed that the GOP-led Legislature is “deeply unpopular with voters” because four House incumbents lost re-election bids in a year that the GOP gained legislative seats in other states.
Gov. Pat McCrory was more on target when he told WRAL-TV in Raleigh that the biggest mistake Republicans could make would be to govern as though they received a “major mandate.” “North Carolina is still very divided,” he said. “There’s divisions among race and gender and geographic areas in North Carolina and urban and rural. We’ve got to recognize where there’s differences and try to have conversations with each other.”
The close race for U.S. Senate between Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis backs McCrory’s argument.
Among state Senate races, the only real surprise was in Wake County, where Republican businessman John Alexander defeated Democrat Tom Bradshaw, a former Raleigh mayor and state transportation secretary. The seat had been held by Sen. Neal Hunt, a Republican who chose not to run again. It was a surprise somewhat in that Democrats swept the county commissioner races in Wake County, but that didn’t appear to translate to the legislative races.
In the House, two up-and-coming stars in the Republican Party – Reps. Tim Moffitt of Buncombe County and Tom Murry of Wake – lost re-election bids. Both held powerful committee positions, and Moffitt was once considered a candidate for House speaker. Those losses probably sting General Assembly Republicans the most.
In all, there will be 15 new faces in the 120-member House and six in the 50-member Senate when lawmakers return to Raleigh in January for the long session. As opposed to ousting incumbents, most of the newcomers won in seats left vacant by lawmakers who retired or sought higher offices.
In other words, not much turnover and not much change in the political landscape on Jones Street, which can be good or bad, depending on your viewpoint.
Patrick Gannon is a syndicated columnist who writes about state government and politics.