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North Carolina Votes for Change

John Hood

November 12, 2012

For all the time, energy, and money spent on federal campaigns over the past two years, American voters decided not to make any significant changes. They reelected President Barack Obama, albeit with many fewer votes than in 2008. They kept Democrats in control of the U.S. Senate and Republicans in control of the U.S. House.


Essentially, after watching the fractious political debate about debt, taxes, health care, and economic policy over the past two years, voters pushed the replay button. Whether they will like the national show better the second time is unclear.


But here in North Carolina, the electoral outcome is completely different. The state’s Republican Party has just delivered its best performance in modern history. For the first time since 1988, voters have elected a Republican governor (Pat McCrory) and lieutenant governor (Dan Forrest). McCrory’s share of the vote fell only slightly below the record for a GOP gubernatorial candidate, Jim Martin’s 55.1 percent reelection victory in 1988.


After winning majorities in both houses of the General Assembly in 2010 for the first time since Reconstruction, the GOP didn’t just retain control this year. They expanded their numbers significantly, to 32-18 in the state senate and 77-43 in the state house, thanks to favorable redistricting, better candidate recruitment and fundraising, and the statewide turnout effort for Romney and McCrory. The same factors also delivered a solid 9-4 Republican majority in the congressional delegation, up from a 6-7 deficit right now. And in an officially nonpartisan race that is in fact very partisan, Republican Paul Newby retained his post on the North Carolina Supreme Court, thus maintaining GOP control of that critical institution.


Across most of the nation, Republicans and conservatives are despondent. They waged a massive effort to convince the American electorate to turn the president out. It fell far short. The GOP also fumbled its opportunity to win control of the U.S. Senate – thanks to another round of poor candidate choices, just as in 2010, plus a solid turnout for the top of the Democratic ticket in states such as Wisconsin.


In the Tar Heel State, the sentiment is rather different. Although disappointed with the national results, Republicans delivered North Carolina to Romney. They are poised to implement conservative reforms on taxes, education, and other issues. It’s too early to know how the results in all of the local races around the state, but it is at least conceivable that the GOP has broken the 50-50 tie in control of county commissions – for example, it’s already clear that Republicans took the majority in Guilford County, the state’s third-most populous after Mecklenburg (with a Democratic commission) and Wake (with a Republican one).


While most of the media attention in the Paul Newby-Jimmy Ervin race focused on the potential effects on state redistricting litigation, the policy implications of the Supreme Court race were far broader than that. If Republican lawmakers enact more school-choice options for parents, further reforms of the state’s regulatory system, or a photo-ID requirement to vote, liberals will surely litigate these changes. With justices of conservative leanings still constituting a majority on the state’s highest court, the plaintiffs are unlikely to get the judicial intervention they desire.


The bottom line here is that while the nation decided to ratify the status quo, North Carolina opted for change. I’m not surprised. Our unemployment rate has been among the highest in the nation for years. A combination of economic woes and poor management has produced short-term budget deficits and long-term fiscal liabilities. Our education system, while showing signs of improvement, is not yet competitive with the best systems in America and the developed world. Our transportation system is plagued by maintenance problems and clogged by some of the most congested interstates in the country.


Pat McCrory and GOP lawmakers asked North Carolina voters for the job of taking on these daunting challenges. The voters said yes. Now Gov.-elect McCrory and a greatly expanded Republican majority will have to deliver.