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Some takeaways from NC’s elections

November 8, 2018

Didn’t get enough North Carolina political action Tuesday?

Good news: It will be weeks before the elections are finalized, and a number of General Assembly races seem destined for recounts.

Meanwhile here are 11 not-so-hot takes to tide you over.

There is but one Republican legislator left in Wake County out of a 16-member delegation: Sen. John Alexander, whose television commercials trumpeted the fact that his wife is a Democrat.

Republican Reps. Nelson Dollar, Chris Malone and John Adcock all went down Tuesday, as did Republican Sen. Tamara Barringer. Democrat Wiley Nickel won a newly drawn Senate seat that replaced a Republican-leaning district held by retiring Sen. Chad Barefoot.

In Mecklenburg County, Sen. Dan Bishop is the last Republican standing, and his opponent had an old impaired driving charge that featured heavily in that race. Rep. Bill Brawley looks like he’ll be the county’s only Republican House member, but he leads Democratic challenger Rachel Hunt by just 52 votes.

A number of close legislative races may see recounts, but the two most likely to flip are Brawley’s and Democrat Harper Peterson’s apparent 36-vote win over Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover.

Provisional votes and absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day must be counted before races are final, and the general wisdom is that provisionals break for Democrats and absentee ballots favor Republicans.

But Lee actually won his race’s provisional count by 88 votes in 2016. He won the mailed-in absentee ballots by 557 votes.

If he’s able to overcome Peterson’s lead, Republicans will narrowly hold their veto-proof majority in the Senate.

In Alamance County, Republican Rep. Stephen Ross has a 295-vote lead over Democratic challenger Erica McAdoo. This, too, is within the 1 percent recount territory, and McAdoo has not conceded, saying in a statement Wednesday that she’ll “make certain that no voters’ voice is unheard.”

The state canvass to certify elections is set for Nov. 27.

Functionally, there’s no real difference between breaking the super-majority in just one chamber and breaking it in both.

Both chambers have to muster three-fifths votes to overturn a veto. With the House super-majority gone, breaking the veto-proof majority in the Senate is more of a symbolic goal.

The tally for now stands at 66-54 in favor of Republicans in the House and 29-21 for the GOP in the state Senate.

Democrats failed to flip a single congressional seat in North Carolina, so the delegation remains 10-3 in favor of Republicans, now that Democrat Dan McCready conceded the 9th District race to Mark Harris.

You may remember: When Republicans drew this map, House Elections Chairman David Lewis said it was drawn for a 10-3 GOP advantage because he didn’t think an 11-2 map was possible.

Expectations held: Republicans won 77 percent of the state’s congressional seats Tuesday night on the strength of just over 50 percent of the votes cast, North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation Executive Director Jonathan Kappler said.

Districks.com, a redistricting blog based in North Carolina, noted that every Democrat who won got at least 69 percent of the vote – landslide victories, in other words. That’s a classic sign the Democratic voters have been “packed” into a few districts to protect Republican candidates in state’s other 10 districts, Districks founder Blake Esselstyn wrote.

The phenomenon was less pronounced in state House and Senate races: Republicans won 58 percent of Senate seats with 49 percent of the votes, Kappler said. They won 55 percent of House seats with 49 percent of the vote.

Republicans will point out that Democratic voters are bunched together regardless of where district lines are drawn, living primarily in and around the state’s urban centers. Tuesday was a bit of a mixed bag for the state’s few rural Democrats: Reps. Bobbie Richardson, D-Franklin, and George Graham, D-Lenoir, went down, while former Rep. Joe Sam Queen won in mountainous Swain County.

“Yes, parties are sorting themselves into like-minded communities,” Catawba College political scientist Michael Bitzer said. “The issue becomes: How you draw those lines. ... You can use the notion of Democrats in urban areas, Republicans everywhere else, but if you draw those lines to pack and crack, you’re engaging in partisan gerrymandering.”

Overheard in the newsroom Tuesday night: There are now more white men named “Mark” in North Carolina’s congressional delegation than there are women or minorities.

If you’re scoring at home that’s Harris, 6th District Congressman Mark Walker and 11th District Congressman Mark Meadows.

Republican 5th District Congresswoman Virginia Foxx and Democratic 12th District Congresswoman Alma Adams are the only female members of the delegation. Adams and Democratic 1st District Congressman G.K. Butterfield are the only minorities.

State Court of Appeals Judge John Arrowood apparently became the first openly gay person to win a statewide race in North Carolina – and possibly in the South.

Arrowood, who was appointed to the bench in 2007, lost an election for his seat in 2008. He was reappointed last year and this time won a close race, with 50.7 percent of the vote.

The win was definitely a first for the LGBT community in North Carolina, and Equality NC said it believed the win to be a milestone for the South as well.

Democrats won all four statewide judicial races on the ballot in North Carolina Tuesday.

The North Carolina Democratic Party, perhaps eager to push back on a narrative that the party’s gains Tuesday failed to reach “blue wave” status, pointed out that Democrats flipped 10 legislative seats President Donald Trump won in 2016.

They could get another one, depending how the Brawley-Hunt race ends, or lose one, depending on Lee-Peterson.

“Flipping that many ‘Trump districts’ is a monumental accomplishment,” the party said in its release.

But among some Republicans, there was relief Wednesday that the results had not been worse.

“We dodged a bullet,” one consultant said.

Lenoir County officials discovered problems with their numbers Tuesday night, delaying the final count in races there.

The problem: Three corrupted flash drives that caused an 869-vote discrepancy, according to county Board of Elections Chairman Tommy Pharo. Two officials from the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement went to Kinston to work the problem Wednesday, Pharo said, and pulled totals from paper backups.

The county will also have a bipartisan team do some hand counting to double-check final results, he said.

The openly racist Republican running against state Rep. Garland Pierce, D-Scotland? The one who called Jewish people the “children of Satan”?

He got 8,588 votes in that race, good for 37 percent of the vote.

A new General Assembly was elected Tuesday, but the old one will meet at least once more.

They’re slated to come into session Nov. 27 to write enabling legislation for constitutional amendments that passed Tuesday. The most impactful: voter ID. Lawmakers must put into law just what IDs will be accepted at the polls, and Republicans will write those rules while they still have their super-majorities and Gov. Roy Cooper can’t veto their decisions.

House Minority Leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake, said it will be interesting to see whether Republicans will be more willing to deal with Democrats during this session.

“You’re probably going to get a good idea of how things will get started,” he said.

Medicaid expansion is arguably the top policy priority for Cooper and other Democrats.

Is there a ray of light for the proposal now that the super-majority is gone? Hard to say, but rest assured a Republican bulwark remains in place against expanding health insurance coverage to the working poor on the taxpayer’s dime.

Cooper will presumably put expansion in the budget he’ll present to the General Assembly next year. The Republican majority, presumably, will strip it out. Will Cooper then veto that budget, essentially holding it hostage over the issue?

State Rep. Donnie Lambeth, a primary sponsor on the bill as well as a Republican budget negotiator in the House, said Wednesday there’s “no doubt” Medicaid expansion will be part of next year’s budget negotiations.

Stay tuned, but have no fear of a government shutdown if the two sides can’t agree on a spending plan. Republicans passed legislation in 2016 that keeps the government operating at the past year’s funding levels if a budget’s not in place by the start of a new fiscal year.

That takes some brinksmanship off the table.

Of course, compromise could always break out on Jones Street. There are five Republican sponsors for a bill called “Carolina Cares” – an expansion plan with Republican-backed caveats. All five won re-election Tuesday.

Add them to the 54 seats Democrats will hold next year – 55 if Hunt beats Brawley – and Democrats are still a vote or two short of getting Carolina Cares through the House without extra Republican help.

“Do I think there are more than five Republican votes [for the bill]?” Jackson said Wednesday. “Yes.”

Of course, that’s if leadership will bring the bill to the floor. Lambeth said he doesn’t have any indication leadership is any more interested in the bill than it was last year, when it languished in committee.

And then there’s the Senate to consider, which is likely the heavier lift.

“It depends. I think, in the end ... on what sort of mood they’re in to actually try to govern the state across party lines,” Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, part of his party’s leadership team, said Wednesday. “Or if their plan is instead is to just use the next two years to try and draw a contrast ... with the goal of defeating Gov. Cooper in 2020.”

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