A break in NC’s conservative revolution?

Published 7:16 pm Wednesday, November 16, 2016

From a column by Rob Christensen of The News & Observer:

North Carolina Democrats may be on the verge of becoming relevant again. The Democrats have had a diminishing voice in Raleigh since Republicans won control of the legislature in the Tea-Party inspired GOP landslide in 2010.

In recent years, the Democrats have often been relegated to little more than bystanders — or demonstrators at Moral Monday protests — as Republicans engineered what then House Speaker Thom Tillis, now a U.S. senator, termed “a conservative revolution.”

Republicans had moved North Carolina — historically among the most moderate Southern states — in a markedly more conservative direction in recent years on … taxes, unemployment insurance, voter ID, abortion, environmental protection, gun rights, charter schools and so forth.

But with Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper having led in Election Day returns for governor, that Republican tide may be slowed. We will have to await the counting of the provisional ballots — and perhaps a recount — before we know for certain that Cooper has defeated Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. …

If Cooper is elected, Republicans will remain the dominant force in Raleigh, with a veto-proof supermajority in the legislature. But a Democratic governor would have both a bully pulpit, and leverage through control of the executive branch, to influence public policy.

If the Democrats are ever to make a comeback, this would be an important first step.

The other major gain for the Democrats was winning a N.C. Supreme Court seat, tilting the court from a 4-3 Republican majority to a 4-3 Democratic majority.

Party affiliation should have no bearing on decisions regarding the law, but there have been a number of party-line votes on politically sensitive cases, suggesting the court has become more politicized. Mike Morgan, a Democratic Superior Court judge, defeated Republican Associate Justice Robert Edmunds in a race in which party was not listed. …

If Cooper ends up defeating McCrory, it will in some ways be rather remarkable. McCrory ran during a year when the economy had rebounded from the recession, and during a very good Republican year led by a strong showing by GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump at the top of the ticket. McCrory would be the first North Carolina governor defeated for re-election.

But McCrory damaged his prospects when he became the public face of House Bill 2, which was passed earlier this year by the legislature. … The law prompted a national boycott against the state, which Forbes Magazine estimated has cost the state at least $630 million since March.

The issue undermined the McCrory re-election campaign narrative that the economy had improved under his watch — what he termed The Carolina Comeback.

Compounding McCrory’s messaging problem was Trump, who campaigned across the state telling voters how bad things were. …

McCrory had other problems as well. He was at a financial disadvantage in getting his message out. Cooper outraised him $22 million to $14 million, almost unheard of for a challenger. McCrory refused to cancel an unpopular toll-road project on Interstate 77 in the Charlotte area. He took a hit for his handling of the 2014 coal ash spill. There seemed to be a stature gap, as he was repeatedly pushed around by a Republican legislature.

All of this left an opening for the beginnings of a Democratic comeback.