In the midterm elections, Republicans picked up two seats in the North Carolina Senate to reach a 30-seat supermajority but fell one seat short of the 72 needed for a supermajority in the House. Overriding Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto requires supermajority votes in both houses of the N.C. General Assembly.
These GOP wins, while falling short of the double-supermajority that the party had hoped for, will allow Republican leaders more freedom to advance policies that they have long supported. Major issues on the agenda for next year include abortion restrictions, education, congressional redistricting, Medicaid expansion, taxes and voter ID laws.
“I feel completely confident that should we need to override vetoes, we’ll be able to do our part in the House as well,” said N.C. Speaker of the House Tim Moore, a Republican, in a press conference on Nov. 9, citing the possibility of working with House Democrats.
“They just need one person on each vote and that person can be different, so it's a distinct possibility,” said Mac McCorkle, Law School ‘84 and professor of the practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy. “It depends on whether we're talking about abortion, or we're talking about the budget. There are different concerns for different people.”
There is also the possibility of Republicans in the House overriding a veto by voting when not all members of the Democratic party are present, as happened in 2019, but McCorkle thinks that a move like this is unlikely, especially after the party came under fire in 2016 for passing House Bill 2 (HB2), which many claimed was an overreach of their power. In 2023, “Republicans have to watch getting too extreme,” McCorkle said.
In addition to increasing their numbers in the legislature, the GOP also flipped two seats on the N.C. Supreme Court, giving them a 5-2 majority and guaranteeing that they will be in control of the state judiciary for the next six to eight years.
North Carolina currently restricts abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Republican Phil Berger, the N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore, has said that he would like to see restrictions imposed after the first trimester, and Moore has expressed that he would support “more protection for the unborn,” potentially as soon as a heartbeat is detected.
Berger confirmed during the Nov. 9 press conference that his personal stance on abortion has not changed, but emphasized that he and Moore have not talked to new General Assembly members yet about the issue and that no decision has been made.
The issue of abortion is “the biggest test for the Republicans,” according to McCorkle, and seeing restrictions tightened is “more than a distinct possibility.” He noted, though, that some internal disagreements may arise between more conservative members of the Republican party who would like to see a total ban on abortion and more moderate Republicans who would prefer to leave “some breathing room.”
McCorkle named Democratic Rep. Garland Pierce, the Baptist minister who represents North Carolina’s 48th District, as a potential flip vote for abortion. The Republican majority in the N.C. Supreme Court may also embolden Republican lawmakers in regard to abortion restrictions, he added.
With a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” stagnant in the House and an anti-critical race theory bill failing to become law in recent years, 2023 may be the year that Republicans are able to pass legislation regulating what is taught in N.C. public schools in regard to race and LGBTQ issues.
“Parents have made it clear that they are not happy with some of the things that are going on in our public schools,” Berger said, adding that he and many returning members still support the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” that passed the Senate last year but never became law. Moore added that he would like to talk to new members in the House and reach a consensus before making a decision.
“The issue is something that is important to the voters and it’s something that is important to a number of our members that are returning,” Berger said, though he did not give specifics on what shape such an education bill might take.
McCorkle likened such legislation to bills that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed in April limiting discussion of race in public schools. A “Parental Bill of Rights” or anti-critical race theory bill “might gain majority support that might not be as controversial ... as the ban on abortion or the old HB2,” he said.
McCorkle added that it will be interesting to see whether Republicans expand North Carolina’s controversial private school voucher program, especially as they have lately been making the case “that they’re pro-public school.”
Congressional district maps will be redrawn by the N.C. General Assembly before the 2024 elections to replace the temporary maps currently enacted by the courts. No decision has been made concerning legislative maps at this time.
The congressional districts that were in place for the Nov. 8 midterms were “clearly a Democrat gerrymander,” Moore said, adding that they “split counties, split cities and drew districts that made no sense.” Because of these issues, he does not believe that the current maps accurately reflect the will of the voters, even though current congressional districts hold Republicans and Democrats in a 7-7 balance.
Republicans could try to redraw district maps to “something that would look more like 9-5,” McCorkle said, “and they could probably get away with that,” especially with a Republican-controlled N.C. Supreme Court.
The issue of redistricting will come before the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 7 when oral arguments are heard for Moore v. Harper, in which N.C. legislators accuse the N.C. Supreme Court of overstepping their constitutional power by rejecting the General Assembly’s congressional district map and instead enacting one of their own.
Both the Senate and the House passed Medicaid expansion bills in 2022, with overwhelming support from both parties. The two houses of the General Assembly, however, were not able to reconcile differences in their bills and pass unified legislation.
“We’ll deal with that next year,” Moore said about finally passing a unified bill. Berger said that he still supports the bill that the Senate passed this year, but does “not disagree that waiting until next year is the right thing to do,” as opposed to holding a special December session.
Medicaid expansion is “one of the big imponderables” in next year’s legislative cycle, according to McCorkle. How the General Assembly moves forward with this issue will reveal whether Medicaid expansion is truly a priority for Republicans now that they have greater freedom to pass a more “ideologically hardline agenda.”
Moore and Berger also mentioned voter ID laws and tax cuts as legislative priorities for the coming year.
“The one thing that is crystal clear is that the people of the state of North Carolina want photo voter ID,” Berger said. “We’re going to continue to fight,” Moore agreed. Attempts to pass such legislation have been blocked for years, but may be able to pass under a Republican Supreme Court.
In terms of taxes and business, Moore said he thinks that North Carolina is “moving in the right direction,” citing the state’s recent ranking as the top state for business in the country. Berger added that he still believes tax rates, especially individual rates, are too high, saying that the General Assembly will “continue to try to find ways to cut people’s tax bills” and “ensure that the state’s budget is balanced.”
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Holly Keegan is a Trinity first-year and a staff reporter of The Chronicle's 118th volume.