The 2019 Legislature: What Lies Ahead
First, I want to thank the voters of Caswell and Orange counties for putting their trust in me and returning me to office. I am humbled by the honor and responsibility.
The 2019-20 biennial session of the North Carolina General Assembly will look and feel different from the past few sessions. After election victories in November, Democrats have broken the Republican supermajority in both the House and Senate. So why am I not feeling especially optimistic?
I feel great about picking up ten new Democratic seats in the House and six in the Senate. Eliminating the supermajorities means we have most likely seen the end of right-wing legislation such as House Bill 2 or abortion restrictions. If Republicans try anything along those lines, Governor Cooper can veto the bills without the threat of a Republican override. So there is some progress in simply being able to stop harmful legislation.
The greatest new power for Governor Cooper and legislative Democrats is the ability to negotiate the budget. Last year, Republicans drafted their budget behind closed doors, passed it without the standard legislative procedure that allows for amendments, and then overrode the Governor’s veto. Now that they lack the numbers to do those things, they will have to negotiate with Democrats to pass the budget. I hope that Governor Cooper will fight for and not sign any budget that does not include Medicaid expansion and significant new spending on public schools. I personally will work to secure increased support for mental health services and environmental protections.
I have some modest hopes for finding a few bills on which the Republicans in the legislature and Governor will likely agree. I expect that we will see a proposal for a school construction bond, which is badly needed since North Carolina schools need at least $8 billion in repairs — Orange County’s needs alone exceed $300 million. We’ll also likely see additional legislation addressing the damage from last year’s hurricanes. I just hope that this legislation includes provisions that help prevent future environmental devastation while also helping residents and businesses recover.
I wish that I could predict a new era of bipartisan cooperation, where our closely divided chambers decided to drop political posturing and work collaboratively on important and difficult issues. Unfortunately, I don’t believe this will happen because I don’t think that the Republican legislative leaders are likely to change their stripes. They still have a majority in each chamber, and therefore still have tremendous power. Since Republicans took the majority in 2010, they have consistently chosen to pursue a hard right-wing agenda and to use their power for near complete control, completely avoiding any collaboration or moderation.
Republicans are likely to do everything they can to tear down the popularity of Governor Cooper as we look ahead to his 2020 re-election campaign. That could mean that they send him good bills with poison pill provisions daring him to veto something that they will use to attack him in the campaign. Or it could result in a prolonged budget stalemate, similar to what’s happening with the Federal government right now.
North Carolina would be better served by legislators who work across party lines to tackle important and difficult issues. But it will probably take another election, one in which Republicans lose their majority, for the General Assembly to arrive at a place where the parties work together in more productive ways. I don’t say this just because I want Democrats to be in charge. I say it because collaborative government will most likely require fundamental change to how our political system works.
The most important thing we can do to create a more collaborative government is to end partisan gerrymandering, in which legislators choose their voters rather than voters choosing their legislators. If the legislature had fair and competitive legislative districts, more candidates would come from the center of the political spectrum rather than the poles. While all legislative Democrats have pledged to end partisan gerrymandering, Republicans continue to oppose this critical change to our dysfunctional system. I believe they will use their majority power to continue to block bills that would end gerrymandering.
In the face of all this, I will continue to try to work on several key policy priorities. In my column next month, I will write about my legislative agenda for this session. If there are specific things you’d like me to be working on over the next two years, please feel free to contact me and let me know. Please know, that my Democratic colleagues and I will keep fighting for the people of Caswell and Orange Counties and North Carolina as a whole.
Graig Meyer is the State Representative for House District 50. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the News of Orange.