RALEIGH — The 2002 elections may finally be over, with recounts confirming the Democrats’ 28-22 majority in the North Carolina Senate and the Republicans’ 61-59 majority in the North Carolina House, but the struggle for legislative power over the next two years has just begun.
On Sunday, legislative Republicans gathered in Greensboro to pick their leadership for the 2003-04 biennium. On the Senate side, there were few surprises. Sen. Patrick Ballantine of New Hanover was reelected as minority leader, with Sen. Jim Forrester of Gaston moving into a deputy minority leader slot and freshmen Sen. (but longtime Rep.) Fern Shubert of Union becoming minority whip.
The main action was on the House side, where Rep. Leo Daughtry of Johnston won reelection as leader of the GOP with 36 out of 60 votes (one GOP member wasn’t present). Second-place finisher Connie Wilson, a conservative Mecklenburg Republican, scored 20 votes. The inexplicable Cary Allred of Alamance caught a couple of strays.
It isn’t yet clear how Wilson, Allred, and their supporters will move as Daughtry tries to consolidate a claim on the speakership in the House. Rep. Richard Morgan of Moore is already threatening to run for speaker as a compromise, bipartisan candidate (probably the first time those terms have been used in the same sentence as Richard Morgan).
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side Speaker Jim Black says he will run again and try to pick off Republicans to gain the majority. There are at least six Republicans likely or possibly in play here, including Morgan and Allred. Some are whispering about Rep. Steve Wood of Guilford, newly elected to a GOP-leaning open seat after serving severalterms in the House from a different district, allying with Democrats to get elected to a leadership post, and eventually being defeated in a GOP primary and then in the general election as a Reform Party candidate. Has Wood, the prodigal son, returned home? Or was he recruited by Black himself to clinch a close leadership fight?
Finally, Black may face opposition within his own ranks, too. Several Democrats, mostly on the conservative side, previously voted for a Republican speaker six years ago. Others, mostly on the liberal side, tried to elect a speaker, in conjunction with the GOP caucus, on two separate occasions. Reportedly there is also grumbling among mainstream Democrats about Black’s failure to preserve their majority in the 2002 elections and about his erratic behavior of late.
Who will lead the House? It’s anyone guess at this point. It matters a lot. It could well determine the size and shape of the state budget, how much extra tax you will pay next year, and whether we will continue to have competitive elections in North Carolina.
Let the games begin.