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Red North Carolina has a Republican-dominated Legislative branch at constant war with the executive. Gov. Roy Cooper, Democrat, has faced attempts to strip him of power to appoint his cabinet, veto overrides, and more recently of funds he negotiated from Dominion Power Co. extending a natural gas pipeline across Eastern North Carolina. Color him blue.

Democrats this year recruited candidates to run in all 170 legislative districts as did Republicans. But observers in North Carolina politics have concluded that only 26 districts are truly competitive. Democrats would have to win a net gain of 10 Senate seats and 16 House seats to regain a majority. The recent election of a Democrat in a solid red congressional district in Pennsylvania has energized party leaders across Tarheelia. They believe new voters in the metropolitan areas will turn North Carolina purple.


Legislators on the Joint Economic Development and Global Engagement Committee recently heard North Carolina leaders in economic growth offer sobering observations on the rural-urban divide. As the urban areas around Raleigh and Charlotte rapidly gain businesses and population, dozens of rural counties are losing jobs and population. The top leaders in the House and Senate represent mostly rural areas and they are frustrated.

In not-too-distant memory, hosiery and textiles mills were jobs providers in small communities across the state. Globalization on the eve of the 21st century shuttered most of the mills. Surviving manufacturers have downsized and turned to automation. As a result thousands of people have migrated to urban areas for jobs demanding skilled personnel and for a lifestyle with more attractions.

Implications for North Carolina involve education, infrastructure, regulatory issues, and financing, the legislators were advised. Of all jobs available in North Carolina at the beginning of 2018, 59 percent required education beyond high school. Also, according Chris Chung, director of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, infrastructure tops the list of priorities for business prospects. Highways and access to markets are among most important concerns.

The growth trends in North Carolina are reflected in the incentive grants. The state paid $421.7 million to companies in the North Central area that includes Wake and Durham Counties. The Southwest area dominated by Mecklenburg County received $34l.4 million for business growth. Some $87.7 million went to companies in the Triad. By contrast companies qualifying in the Southeast area of the state were given $22.9 million.

The legislators are evaluating two North Carolinas: the fast-paced urban centers and the struggling rural communities depending on agriculture, small and medium-sized traditional manufacturing companies, and dealing with smaller populations. Strategies and goals are elusive.


We already know there will be a new look to the 2019 session. There will be more women. Both Republican and Democratic recruiting leaders focused on lining up women candidates. Democrats need to pick up seven House seats to break the GOP “super majority” that can override Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes. Most observers think that will happen. The Senate Democrats would need to gain five seats and this is uncertain. It will all depend on money, the political climate in November and the marketing strategies of both parties. The changing trends in urban and rural demographics also could be a tipping point in 2018. But Democrats have not give up on rural North Carolina and Republicans have not conceded the rapidly-growing metro areas.


Dan Barrett, an accountant in Davie County who was active in the Carolina Hosiery Association, won a Senate seat in a special election in August to replace Sen. Andrew Brock. He and Sen. Joyce Krawiec of Kernersville are two incumbents put in a new district.

The winner in the May primary will face a Democrat in November.

Former GOP Rep. Marilyn Avila of Wake County has filed to regain her seat in November. She started her career in the quality control laboratory at Hanes Hosiery and has championed the Manufacturing Solutions Center.

Sen. Jerry Tillman of Randolph County is one of the few incumbents who will return for the 2019-20 session without a battle. Tillman has championed the legislative agenda for the Manufacturing Solutions Center and the Textile Technology Center. Sen. Jeff Jackson in Mecklenburg County, a rising star in the Democratic caucus, also is home-free.


The 2018 elections will include the most competitive races in recent memory—certainly in decades. From the mountains to the sea, most of the 170 seats for the House and Senate in the General Assembly will be contested.

Less than a half dozen Republican incumbents are home-free. The same is true for incumbent Democrats. Even the top leaders in the House and Senate will have opponents on the ballot in November. Other notables will have serious primary challenges in May. Taking a leaf from the Thom Tillis playbook in 2010 when he headed the GOP candidates recruiting efforts, Democrats worked to have candidates in all districts. They succeeded in 95 percent of the districts. Some longtime members who have never faced a challenge will be on the campaign trail in May and November. These include African American legislators who rarely have opponents and who will have primary battles.


This week top business leaders, education board members, and some political activists gathered in Raleigh where the Emerging Issues Forum zeroed in on public education. Billionaire Jim Goodnight, CEO and founder of SAS Institute identified the vision for the assembly: lifting people out of poverty through education. Goodnight and others insisted that pre-kindergarten programs are a key to lifting up public education in the state, but public appropriations limit participation of only half the 70,000 pre-kindergarten age children who are living in poverty. N.C. Rep. Craig Horn of Union County, a retired business executive and House Appropriations Education chair, is a strong voice for increased funding for pre-school education. Horn has been meeting with education leaders across the state to gain input for the upcoming session in May.

The state spends $10 billion a year on public education which is almost half the $23 billion budget.


Since Massachusetts Governor Gerry implemented a congressional district in 1810 that looked like a salamander, “gerrymandering” has been used to describe the process of creating congressional districts for partisan advantage. North Carolina reportedly leads the nation in the process. Republicans represent 10 of the 13 N.C. Districts. In a year when Republican seats are vacated by retiring members, Democratic control of the U.S. House is regarded as a possibility. Serious Democratic candidates are expected in the N.C. Ninth and 13th Districts held by Republicans, one of which is facing a fierce primary fight. A switch of 21 seats in the U.S. House would give Democrats control. National attention will be focused on North Carolina in the election season, especially as the state is expected to gain another congressional district after the 2020 census.


The filing period for candidates in the 2018 elections starts Monday. A lot of names of veteran lawmakers will not be on the list when the period ends in three weeks. But a flood of new names will appear. Democrats are working to be sure there is a candidate for the N.C. House or Senate in districts where Gov. Roy Cooper got at least 44 percent of the vote in 2016. In a number of districts incumbent Republicans may face primary challenges from announced opponents. This could be the largest turnover the Legislature has experienced in decades.

Democrats would have to gain 16 seats in the House and 11 seats in the Senate to gain control. But the GOP super majority which can overide gubernatorial vetoes would be lost if Democrats gain about half that number. Loss of the super majority is just one chamber would give Governor Roy Cooper leverage to restore the balance the power between the legislative and executive branches of government. Observers predicted the GOP-controlled General Assembly to push hard for changes to the judicial branch, eliminating public elections of district judges.

With the popularity of President Trump in rural areas, a Democratic sweep seems unlikely. But the days of the Legislative control over the state’s agenda may be numbered.


Legislators Wednesday were poised to pass a bill approving some $1.5 billion in incentives to land an automobile manufacturing plant on a 1,800 acre site in Randolph County at the Guilford County line. But Tuesday night Toyota and Mazda announced the plant and 4,000 jobs will go to Huntsville, Alabama which offered less in incentives but which already has a supply chain for production of cars. The average salary of jobs will be $50,000, Toyota Mazda announced.

An executive with the site-selection team observed that Alabama now has 57,000 people employed in the automotive industries. “They did not want to be a pioneer in North Carolina,” he surmised.

The North Carolina effort was bipartisan with legislators and the office of Gov. Roy Cooper working hard to land the plant. The learning process will eventually lead to an automobile manufacturer on the site, the governor’s office insisted. Legislators reiterated support for manufacturing clusters in North Carolina.


The North Carolina General Assembly convened in Raleigh this week for a series of in-and-out sessions and committee meetings. Dominating the agenda is the realignment of 13 Congressional Districts, the redistricting of Judicial centers, and perhaps crafting an another amendment to the state constitution to make judges appointed and subject to approval of state lawmakers. As expected, vocal opposition has been part of the process.

Observers in Raleigh predict more quick sessions over the next few months before the normal short session of the Legislature begins in mid-May. Republicans dominate the Senate and House with veto-proof majorities. Recent polls indicate a possibility Democrats will gain enough seats in November to block veto overrides. The GOP will push major priorities into law before November, the reasoning goes.