Taking away Republican legislators’ ability to muster enough votes to override the governor’s vetoes sets up a clash between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the GOP-controlled General Assembly that could resound throughout the second half of his first term in office.
The first half has already been marked by a predictable pattern of vetoes, overrides and lawsuits sparked by one controversy after another.
This week voters replaced enough Republican incumbents to rob the House and possibly the Senate of the three-fifths majorities required to override vetoes. Unofficial results indicated House Democrats, who needed to pick up four seats, took nine. They also picked up the six seats they needed in the Senate.
Many of the contests were decided narrowly, and so the final outcome could change once provisional ballots are counted and any recounts are conducted.
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But Democrats were calling it a sweep that eliminated supermajorities in both chambers, crediting a campaign the state Democratic Party launched last year to accomplish that goal. Republicans have held supermajorities since 2013.
“By breaking the Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature and by overwhelmingly rejecting the power grabbing constitutional amendments, North Carolinians sent a strong message to the legislature that they want their state leaders to find more common ground and work better with the Governor,” spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said in a statement the governor’s office released Wednesday.
Cooper’s office said he was not available Wednesday for an interview.
The shake-up changes the dynamic between Cooper and Republican lawmakers. Key legislators won’t be able to count on their bills or budgets becoming law despite opposition from Democratic lawmakers or the governor.
During his first two years in office, Cooper vetoed 25 bills and the legislature overrode 20 of them. Former Gov. Pat McCrory vetoed six bills, and four were overridden.
That will change in January when a new legislature is seated.
“They’ll now have to sit down with the governor and negotiate and discuss policy, something they have refused to do time and time and time again,” Morgan Jackson, a Democratic strategist who worked on Cooper’s campaign, said Wednesday. “The General Assembly not only fought him in these efforts but took him to court and passed legislation to limit his executive authority.
“The truth of it is, the governor is going to have a much bigger hand in public policy because every budget, every bill is going to have to have his signature and that should produce better public policy.”
Jackson said Cooper will continue to push for issues that he has promoted all along, such as expanding Medicaid and raising pay for teachers at all ranges of experience, as well as more disaster relief, a stronger emphasis on cleaning up water that is polluted with chemicals like GenX and from hurricanes.
Chris Sinclair, a consultant who has worked in high-profile Republican campaigns in North Carolina, says there’s no doubt the outcome of the vote makes Cooper more relevant and will make it harder for Republicans to continue moving their conservative agenda forward. That will force them to become more strategic, he said.
“If Republicans were smart they’d figure out a budget that keeps him from vetoing it or makes it hard for him to veto something that would go over well with the electorate,” Sinclair said. “That’s just pure politics on both sides. Do they box him into a corner and force him to sign bills that would potentially affect him in his re-election, or affect his lieutenants and supporters in the House and Senate on the Democratic side?”
Sinclair, who worked on the successful Marsy’s Law victims-rights amendment, noted that all of the polling this election cycle put health care as the public’s No. 1 issue, and Republicans need to react to that.
“If I were advising Republicans, I would figure out a way for them to own Medicaid expansion,” he said, adding that some conservatives support that if costs can first be curtailed. “Whoever gets to define the next year in terms of the issues quickly and in a way that doesn’t offend unaffiliated voters can be in the driver’s seat.”
Despite the legislative losses, N.C. GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse insisted Tuesday night he was optimistic.
“We’re going to pass Republican bills,” he said. “We’re going to pass a Republican budget. We’re going to pass a Republican agenda. We’ll see if the governor works with us.”