Raleigh, North Carolina – October 27, 2023
In a culmination of their annual legislative session, North Carolina’s Republican lawmakers have not only redrawn the political landscape but also pushed forward a series of contentious bills. These bills address issues related to abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, gun control, voting rights, and education, marking a significant shift in the state’s political climate. With the final approval of the new redistricting maps, the GOP is poised to assert its dominance in North Carolina for years to come, while also diminishing the authority of Democratic Governor Roy Cooper.
The North Carolina General Assembly, as the ninth-largest state in the U.S., recently approved new boundary lines for “state House and Senate districts,” as well as the U.S. House delegation. The entire process played out along party lines, reflecting the deep political divide in the state. These new maps, necessitated by court rulings related to the 2022 elections, are expected to result in at least three additional U.S. House seats for North Carolina Republicans after 2024, potentially tipping the balance of power in their favor at the national level.
In addition to their implications for the U.S. House, the new district maps place the Republicans in a strong position to maintain their hold on both chambers of the state legislature for the rest of the decade. While Republicans have held majorities in the North Carolina House and Senate since 2011, the 2022 elections gave them veto-proof supermajorities, enabling them to override all 19 of Governor Cooper’s vetoes this year.
Senator Jim Perry, the GOP Senate Majority Whip, emphasized the alignment of their legislative actions with their campaign promises, stating, “We’re doing exactly what we said we were going to do.”
Among the most contentious bills vetoed by Governor Cooper were measures to restrict abortion access, prohibit gender-affirming medical treatments for youth, and limit LGBTQ+ instruction in early grades. Furthermore, new laws eliminated the need for a permit from a county sheriff to purchase a handgun. These changes reflect a strong conservative stance on issues that have generated nationwide debate.
The legislature also restructured key boards and commissions, shifting appointments from the governor to the General Assembly and other elected officials. Notably, the State Board of Elections, the State Utilities Commission, and the Board of Transportation all underwent this transformation. This shift in power from the executive branch to the legislative branch underscores the Republican-controlled legislature’s commitment to shaping the state’s trajectory according to its vision.
Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer remarked on the deliberate influence of the Republicans, stating, “Legislative Republicans have worked to place a ‘very deliberative stamp’ on North Carolina since they took control in 2011.” With their veto-proof majorities, they were able to enact more of their desired changes and consolidate their influence over the state’s direction.
Critics argue that these legislative actions were primarily aimed at diminishing the governor’s power and ensuring the dominance of the General Assembly. House Minority Leader Robert Reives, a Democrat, criticized the focus on defeating Cooper rather than addressing the state’s growing needs. He expressed the view that, with the governor now term-limited, the General Assembly’s influence is set to become even more pronounced.
Opponents of the redistricting maps contend that they harm minority voters and provide the GOP with disproportionate political leverage in a state known for closely contested statewide elections. Critics argue that the current maps skew representation, allowing Republican lawmakers to advance policies that disproportionately affect women and LGBTQ+ individuals without fear of electoral consequences.
Ann Webb from Common Cause North Carolina emphasized the negative consequences of noncompetitive legislative maps, saying, “When you create noncompetitive legislative maps, you lose accountability to the voters.”
While redistricting legislation in North Carolina is exempt from the gubernatorial veto, opponents may resort to legal action. However, the scope of potential litigation has been narrowed by an April ruling by the state Supreme Court, which found no constitutional limits on shifting district lines for partisan gain. This ruling significantly curtailed legal recourse for challenging the redistricting process.
Despite these legislative battles, Governor Cooper did achieve a significant triumph by successfully extending Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands of impoverished adults, a key objective on his agenda. This expansion was initially in doubt due to budget disagreements, but it ultimately passed alongside other provisions that the governor opposed, such as taxpayer-funded scholarships for private schools and additional income tax cuts. Cooper allowed the budget to become law without his signature, citing the Medicaid expansion as a compelling reason for his decision.
Sam Chan, a spokesperson for Governor Cooper, summarized the legislative session as one that “has hurt the people of North Carolina on almost every front.”
As North Carolina embarks on a new political era, the long-term consequences of these legislative actions will shape the state’s political landscape and influence its future.