RALEIGH — Nearly 20 members of the General Assembly, including several powerful veteran lawmakers, will not be running for re-election in 2016, and that number could swell as the candidate filing period that opens today at noon moves forward.
Meanwhile, the State Board of Elections is busy training poll workers, and preparing for the flow of prospective office holders coming in to file. Josh Lawson, general counsel for the board, said it is not possible to predict the volume of candidates because they don’t usually hear from them until they file.
“The only person I know 100 percent who has told folks here at the state board is A.J. Daoud, who was, I think, camping out somewhere across the street so he can be the first to file, but otherwise I don’t know,” Lawson said. “He says he’s running for secretary of state.”
Candidates will have until 3 p.m. Dec. 21 to submit paperwork to run for office. That schedule is greatly expedited compared to prior elections because the General Assembly voted this year to move the primary election up to March 15 instead of mid-May, which has been the primary date since 1992.
Voters will elect a U.S. senator, 13 congressional candidates, governor, lieutenant governor, eight Council of State members, judges, and district attorneys.
The day before filing commenced, seven-term state Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, said he would not run again.
As chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, the Senate’s second most powerful post, he wields considerable influence controlling the flow of legislation and directing the Republican caucus agenda.
“I can’t overstate how instrumental he has been to the Senate Republican Caucus’s electoral and legislative success,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.
“The fact that a mountain bail bondsman with the last name of ‘Apodaca’ rose to become a legislative leader is proof that anything is possible in America,” Apodaca said. “I’m proud that the conservative reforms we’ve passed have set North Carolina on a more fiscally responsible path. That was my goal all along.”
Other senators who have announced their to retire at the end of the term are Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, and Stan Bingham, R-Davidson.
Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, and Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, said they are going to give up their seats to run for attorney general, a position being vacated by Democrat Roy Cooper, who is one of two Democrats challenging Gov. Pat McCrory. The other is Durham attorney Ken Spaulding.
State Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, who holds the No. 2 position in the House as speaker pro tem, announced previously he would not run for a ninth term.
“On the progressive side of things we are happy because that’s one tough barrier removed towards us advancing our agenda,” said state Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake. “But those of us who believe that the House needs more civility and respect for the process are facing a deep loss with Skip deciding not to run again.”
Reps. Rayne Brown, R-Davidson, Jacqueline Schaffer, R-Mecklenburg, Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston, J.H. Langdon, R-Johnston, Rick Catlin, R-New Hanover, and Roger West, R-Cherokee announced their House retirements, according to the North Carolina Republican Party.
Reps. Brian Brown, R-Pitt, and Bryan Holloway, R-Stokes, both resigned their seats in October. Rep. Dan Bishop, R-Mecklenburg, will not seek re-election, but is running to fill Rucho’s Senate District 39 seat.
According to the North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation, which monitors electoral races and publishes an annual almanac of North Carolina politics, other House members who have expressed decisions not to run again are Reps. Nathan Baskerville, D-Vance, Kenneth Waddell, D-Columbus, and Paul Tine, U-Dare. Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, resigned in August.
“These are usually very individualized decisions based on people’s lives, their age, there may be somebody who a shorter legislative session might have kept around,” Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the state GOP, said of legislators’ decisions not to seek re-election.
Although more Republicans than Democrats have announced plans not to run again, Woodhouse said he is not concerned about losing all of those seats, though he acknowledged Democrats could pick up some of them. Conversely, he said, the demographics and registration trends in Paul Tine’s House district “are definitely going in our favor,” and that seat could flip from unaffiliated to Republican.
Democratic strategist Thomas Mills of Carrboro said he expects the Democrats could win back a few House seats that they lost in 2014, “but there’s not a lot of seats that are ripe for the picking for the Republican Party.”
Joe Stewart, executive director of the North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation, said population shifts might have occurred in some Republican legislative districts that could push the races into the Democrats’ corner.
“As significant a Democratic wave as I could ever possibly imagine could occur in 2016 if all of the planets align to make it a seismic shift for the Democrats, I still don’t think there’s any way the Republicans lose control of the General Assembly,” Stewart said.
For that to occur would require a lot of open seats with no Republicans running, and a significant number of politically damaged incumbent Republicans, “and that’s just not going to be the case,” Stewart said.
Lawson said the State Board of Elections would be giving voter photo ID information to candidates “so that they can get that word out through their normal campaign outreach” about a new law going into effect even as it is being legally challenged.
“We’re continuing to enforce the law as is unless a court tells us to do otherwise,” Lawson said.
“January is when we start these new requirements. The March elections, unless we have special elections before that, will be the first time we have photo ID requirements in the state,” Lawson said. “We’re training poll workers, we’re getting the word out to the public.”
Dan E. Way (@danway_carolina) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.