Democratic governor Roy Cooper is likely to come into conflict with Republican supermajorities in the state House and Senate. 

The current post-November breakdown has Republicans with 74 seats in the state House compared to 46 seats for the Democrats, and 35 seats in the state Senate compared to 15 seats for the Democrats. Professors, however, disagreed on how exactly and how much these supermajorities would change the course of North Carolina legislation moving forward. 

"This [supermajority] certainly puts [the Republicans] in the driver’s seat—at least, initially," said Pope McCorkle, associate professor of the practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy. 

He expressed hope that Cooper would be a tough rival for the Republicans' agenda. But Michael Munger, a political science professor, expressed skepticism that the course of North Carolina politics would shift dramatically with Cooper's election. 

Republicans already controlled more than three-fifths of the state House and Senate after the 2012 and 2014 elections, giving them the power to override gubernatorial vetoes. In fact, the legislature did just that with Republican then-governor Pat McCrory. Munger indicated that Republicans would just reach their goals faster than before, notwithstanding Cooper's election. 

As a former libertarian gubernatorial candidate, Munger explained that the governor's powers in North Carolina's constitutional system are among the weakest in the country. He added that this is ironic, because it was the Democrats who allowed that to be the case. 

"All the 140 years the Democrats were in power, they never changed the powers of the governor," he said. "They wanted a weak governor. They could've easily changed them, but they didn't want to, so for them to complain now is hypocritical."

In a December special session, the legislature passed bills limiting Cooper's power, for example removing gubernatorial control over the state's board of elections. A judge has temporarily blocked this law from going into effect pending further litigation. 

Legislative priorities

It is still possible, Munger said, for the Democrats and Republicans to reach common ground on certain issues. 

He suggested the two parties could join forces to improve the North Carolina economy by reinstating a tax credit for film crews and film production companies that ended in 2014. If both parties agree to reinstate the credit, Munger said he believes film crews will return. 

"The North Carolina economy is going very well,” Munger said. "The dispute we might have is how that wealth is being distributed. There are counties growing rapidly with a lot of wealth and rural counties that are falling behind."

In regards to the controversial House Bill 2, McCorkle said Cooper will continue to fight for its repeal, but that this would "still be a major fight." Compromise efforts to repeal the bill fell through in a special legislative session late last year. 

Healthcare is another touchy subject among the two parties. Cooper wants to expand Medicaid through provisions in the federal Affordable Care Act, but Munger believes the Republicans can block that statute and will likely sue. A 2013 law notes explicitly that "the State will not expand the State's Medicaid eligibility under the Medicaid expansion provided in the Affordable Care Act...unless directed to do so by the General Assembly."

"Cooper has very boldly called for expansion [of Medicaid] despite a state law that ostensibly says he can't, so there will probably be some big legal battles over that," McCorkle said. 


Accusations of racial gerrymandering have also dogged North Carolina elections. 

Last November, a federal court had ordered the General Assembly to redraw district maps for districts it ruled unconstitutional gerrymanders, and to hold a special election in 2017. The Supreme Court, however, stayed the order. Thus, while the Supreme Court decides whether to hear the case, the special 2017 election will not proceed. 

Whether gerrymandering led to the Republican supermajority is up to debate, as the party already had a majority in 2010 before the controversial redistricting took place in 2011. McCorkle suggested that perhaps the gerrymandering turned the Republicans' majority into a supermajority, but that is not proven. 

Munger added that the gerrymandering will make it more difficult for Democrats to win back seats in future elections.

"The Democrats could get a substantial change in votes but not in seats because the districts are so gerrymandered," he said.