Half empty or half full: Local lawmakers pessimistic and optimistic about GOP gains in N.C.
The Republican Party further secured its stronghold on North Carolina after last week’s election.
When the General Assembly opens its 2013 session in January, the GOP will hold 32 of the 50 seats in the North Carolina Senate and 76 of the 120 seats in the House of Representatives, in addition Gov.-elect Pat McCrory and presumed Lt. Gov-elect Dan Forest are Republicans. Forest’s opponent, Democrat Linda Coleman, has yet to concede. She says that there are still votes left to be counted that could erase Forest’s razor thin margin of victory.
Local Democrats are among those apprehensive about this supermajority. Earline Parmon, who was recently elected to lead the North Carolina Senate’s District 32, said she is “not very optimistic” about the climate she’ll be walking into .
“I think we’re going to see a complete right-wing agenda trying to be accomplished, and having the General Assembly under Republican control, the governor will just rubber stamp the legislation,” Parmon stated. “I’m afraid that we’re going to see the kinds of things that we’ve seen in Washington in the last few years in terms of gridlocks and a lot of fighting.”
Parmon, an avid supporter of social justice legislation like the Racial Justice Act, which she co-sponsored, and compensation for victims of the state’s eugenics program, says she expects new voter identification laws to be proposed, and other progressive agendas such as women’s rights, to come under fire.
“I just hope I’m wrong in being so pessimistic. I hope I will get a great surprise on how things will shape up in Raleigh in the General Assembly,” declared Parmon, who served in the House prior to her election to the senate. “This is one time I’d be very happy to say I was wrong. I think the people of North Carolina want to see some balance in state government. They want us to create jobs and ensure that education is accessible to all people and I think that’s what those of us who are going to Raleigh should be willing to do.”
Though there will undoubtedly be some areas where he doesn’t see eye to eye with his Democratic counterparts, Republican Donny Lambeth, who was recently elected to represent the North Carolina House of Representatives’ District 75, said there are likely also many areas where they are in agreement. Lambeth, a retired Wake Forest Baptist Health top executive and current chair of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education, said he will embrace public education reform and increasing health care access, just as many progressive legislators do. Tackling tough issues such as these will require both sides to be flexible, Lambeth said.
“There are some very important decisions that need to be made,” he stated. “…We’re only going to solve those (problems) if we can work together, and I think that maybe there’s the mood and the willingness for people to do that.”
Ed Hanes, Parmon’s successor in the NC House’s 72nd District, said he will also focus on reaching across the aisles to champion the kind of legislation he wants to see passed.
“I just look at this as an opportunity to go in and see where we can meet and do the work of the people,” Hanes said. “…Outright capitulation is not the foundation of legislation. – compromise is – and I think as much as I can, as much as it’s reasonable to do so, that’s how I’m going to approach my job in Raleigh.”
Hanes said he didn’t know much about McCrory, but he’s cautiously optimistic about the state’s new leader, based on what he has heard.
“The only thing that I can see is the work that he has done as mayor of Charlotte. Many of my Democratic colleagues and friends who are in business in Charlotte frankly gave him good marks for business. We’ll see how he reacts and interacts when it comes down to some of these harder social justice issues that we’re going to see in the North Carolina legislature,” he commented. “I think it’s a little bit of a wait and see. All we can do is take the man at his word and see what he does when he gets there.”
Dr. Donald Mac-Thompson, an associate professor of political science and chair of the Department of Social Sciences at Winston-Salem State University, also doesn’t believe that McCrory should be written off by Democrats.
“I think if he has a focused agenda and is very willing to work with the state legislature, public policy will be better for North Carolina,” surmised Mac-Thompson, a registered Democrat. “If we look at the individual versus the political affiliation, I think that he’s got the experience. He is very good at attracting small businesses to Charlotte, for example, and I am pretty sure he will do the same with the Chamber of Commerce and the state as a whole.”