This story originally published online at NC Policy Watch.
Republicans fell short of winning a supermajority in the state House, which may help preserve the strength of Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto.
Republicans needed to pick up three seats in the 120-member House to win a supermajority, but fell short by one, the Associated Press reported.
“We stopped a GOP supermajority tonight when North Carolinians voted for balance and progress,” Cooper said in a tweet early Wednesday. “I’ll continue to work with this legislature to support a growing economy, more clean energy, better health care and strong public schools.”
Republicans were able to gain a supermajority in the state Senate. Incumbent Republican Sens. Mike Lee and Bobby Hanig won battleground districts and incumbent Democratic Sen. Toby Fitch of Wilson lost to Republican former state Senator Buck Newton.
Without supermajorities in the last two years, Republican legislative leaders have had to negotiate some issues with Cooper, such as the plan for opening schools during the pandemic and a bill aimed at reducing power companies’ greenhouse gas emissions.
On his own, Cooper has signed executive orders seeking to advance clean energy polices by setting goals for the development of off-shore wind, increasing use of zero-emission vehicles, and advancing a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions goal.
“A mixed bag”
Andrew Whelan, communications manager for the environmental organization CleanAIRE NC, called North Carolina’s election results “a mixed bag.” A state Supreme Court with five Republicans and two Democrats would be consequential in any energy-infrastructure cases, he said.
“It’ll make it harder for environmental organizations to challenge dirty infrastructure and dirty energy projects and developments,” he said.
The fate of not just energy projects but the fairness of elections themselves could rest with a Republican-dominated high court, said Joel Porter, CleanAIRE’s policy manager. A Democratic majority on the court this year required the legislature to redraw state House, Senate and congressional districts, after determining they were unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. All Republicans on the court dissented. If future redistricting cases make it to a GOP-dominated Supreme Court, it’s unlikely that justices will step in to require changes based on gerrymandering claims.
Porter was encouraged by the rise of Gen Z voters, noting that they are interested in climate action and job growth in the solar and wind energy industries.
“Both parties need to realize that voting bloc is incredibly important when formulating policies,” he said.
If all Republicans stick together, they would need to secure support of at least one House Democrat to override a Cooper veto. Three-fifths majorities are needed to override vetoes. That’s 30 votes in the 50-member Senate and 72 votes in the 120-member House.
In his first two years in office, Cooper vetoed 28 bills. Republicans used their supermajorities in those years to override 23 of those vetoes.
The GOP lost its House and Senate supermajorities in 2018. Over the last four years, Cooper has vetoed 47 bills. None have been overridden.
It’s not entirely clear what policies Republicans will pursue having fallen short of their goal.
Controversies that are likely in the offing
A look at some of the Republican bills that fell to vetoes over the last four years and others that had strong Republican support are an indication of some of their policy interests.
Cooper has twice vetoed bills that would have required sheriffs cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. Legislators did not attempt overrides.
Last year, Cooper vetoed a bill that would have dropped the requirement for people who purchase pistols to first obtain a permit from a county sheriff. Gun control advocates opposed the bill, while its supporters argued the permit system is outdated. The bill passed the legislature largely along party lines. Republicans were unable to override Cooper’s veto.
Becky Ceartas, executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence said it was unfortunate that the pistol permit bill became partisan.
“We were incredibly grateful that Governor Cooper looked at the data and saw that repealing the pistol purchase permitting system would make our state less safe,” she said. After Missouri repealed its pistol purchase permit law, murder and suicide rates increased, she said.
“With 2021 being one of the most dangerous years of the 21st century, we cannot afford to repeal our live-saving laws,” she said.
The group works with members of both parties, Ceartas said, pointing to a bill on firearm safe storage awareness that Hanig cosponsored and which passed the House with only one dissenting vote.
She noted that Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis helped negotiate a bipartisan federal gun safety bill this year.
“We look forward to working with any lawmaker who wants to put the safety of our communities first,” she said.
Cooper in the last two years has used the veto to stymie Republican attempts to limit abortion. With the U.S. Supreme Court decision this year overturning the constitutional right to abortion, the legislature had been expected to impose restrictions beyond the current 20-week ban.
Tara Romano, executive director of Pro-Choice NC, said it’s hard to predict what will happen now.
“It definitely is unclear,” Romano said. “It always has been unclear because we have such an antiabortion legislature. We have been depending on a veto. It definitely is unclear but I feel we have a path forward to prevent more abortion restrictions in North Carolina.”
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee sent out a press release Wednesday, saying Democrats in North Carolina have the numbers to stop “radical abortion bans.”
North Carolina clinics have seen dramatic increases in people coming from out-of-state seeking abortions. Many Southern states have banned abortion or have limitations that are more strict than North Carolinas, NC Policy Watch reported.
The DLCC statement called Democrats’ blocking the House supermajority a win for abortion rights in the South that “will keep North Carolina a safe haven for reproductive health care as its neighboring states implement extreme bans.”
Last year, Cooper vetoed a bill that would have regulated how racism is discussed in public schools. The bill grew from the national discussion about Critical Race Theory.
The state Senate this year passed a bill that was dubbed North Carolina’s version of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would have required schools to tell parents if children want to change their pronouns or seek counseling. It was part of a larger measure that Republicans said would make it easier for parents to know what’s being taught in public school classrooms.
The House did not take a final vote on the bill, which would have sent it to Cooper for his consideration. House Speaker Tim Moore said at the time that the bill would not survive Cooper’s veto, the Associated Press reported.
Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality NC, expects that bill to return next year along with other anti-LGBTQ proposed legislation.
She expects some of the rhetoric to escalate as the 2024 elections loom.
“One thing we know is our opposition is always loud and trying to roll back our civil rights and we need to be as a community more engaged with our legislators and let them know the real impact of legislation on the real conditions of our lives,” she said.
Results of all races are unofficial. The county boards of election will certify results on Nov. 18, and the State Board of Election will certify the final results on Nov. 29.
Mail-in absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day have until 5 p.m. Monday to make it to the proper local board of elections. The deadline for overseas and military ballots is Nov. 17. Before county boards certify results, they must research provisional ballots and conduct audits.
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