Do North Carolina Democrats have any ability anymore to engage in actual lawmaking? Do they even have that desire?    

North Carolina’s elected Democrats, specifically those in the legislature, appear to be caught flat-footed after the 2022 election.   

Republicans won all six statewide judicial races, shifting the lean of the N.C. Supreme Court from 4 to 3 Democrat to 5 to 2 Republican. The shift means that Republicans will control the state’s highest court until at least 2028. 

As I noted the day after the election

“With control of the court, Republicans polices will no longer be constantly blocked by a hyper-partisan Democrat controlled high court.”

I further noted: 

“Republicans in the State legislature will once again draw new legislative and congressional districts, but this time the GOP-dominated court is likely to approve the new maps. Republicans can expect to cement GOP gains in the legislature and reverse Democrat gains in congressional seats in 2024.” 

Republicans only picked up four legislative seats, in maps either drawn or heavily influenced by the now-replaced Democratic state Supreme Court. But those gains were huge.  

Republicans gained two seats in the State Senate, landing at 30 of 50, an exact supermajority, and two in the state House, landing on 71 of 120.  

House Speaker Tim Moore confidently and correctly predicted that being one member short of a true supermajority would not stop the state House from enacting a wide-ranging conservative agenda, by overriding Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes when needed.  

“We have a handful of Democrats who work with us,” Moore said. “We have some new members coming in, and I feel completely confident that should we need to override vetoes, we’ll be able to do our part in the House as well.” 

On election night, GOP strategist Jim Blaine tweeted: “Good time to remind #ncpol that multiple senior #NCHouseGOP leaders have told me they believe there are 1-3 Democrats (among the winners tonight) considering a party switch ahead of next year’s long session.” 

That of course came true months later when Mecklenburg Democrat State House member Tricia Cotham defected and joined the Republican party.  

I walk through this history lesson to ask: Why are N.C. Democrats so ill-prepared for their current situation?

Democrats seemed absolutely shocked when Republicans nullified Cooper’s veto of a bill repealing a requirement that citizens seek the permission of their local sheriff to purchase a handgun.

Why? Clearly, they should have seen it coming. Everyone else did. Why not try and cut a deal? Could Democrats have traded a few votes for 20 million dollars to provide free trigger locks in urban areas? Is this a non-starter? Do N.C. Democrats loathe Republicans so much they simply can’t or won’t work with them on a good-faith basis? 

It is clear that many (although not all) elected Democrats oppose the planned expansion of school choice in N.C. through an enhanced opportunity scholarships bill.  

Gov. Cooper, in a tweet, called the expansion proposal “worse than awful” for offering “vouchers that can be used by billionaires to send their kids to private schools.” 

(Carolina Journal has already debunked this nonsense about billionaires)  

But adding to his tweet, showing he REALLY means it Cooper said: 

“You’re going to end up with poor, middle-class children who potentially could have a small amount for a voucher to go to a school that’s not even as good as a public school. This is wrong. It’s the wrong use of taxpayer money, and we’ve got to keep fighting.” 

OK. The governor sends a tweet and makes a statement. That is, it? Really? Where is the negotiation? Where is the alternative proposal?

Could Cooper not say, “I generally don’t support the expansion of opportunity scholarships, but if the legislature is going forward, then we should…..”?

What legitimate amendments are Democrats going to offer to improve the opportunity scholarship proposal? 

No matter what, Republicans are going to expand school choice this year. Will Democrats engage in the debate or just fuss? Republicans would love to gain more Democrat votes and might offer some concessions. Will Democrats even try? 

N.C. Democrats now know that Republicans are going to redraw legislative districts that are most likely to help the GOP retain supermajority/veto override status for at least several years, if not most of the decade.  

So far in 2023, N.C. Democrats have behaved as if the 2022 election did not happen. They can’t just oppose everything and hope they can uphold a Cooper veto as they did from 2019-2022. 

North Carolina would be better off with Democrats coming to the table, with real governing ideas. We need real ideas from them, even on proposals they are not fond of. 

Democrats are not adjusting to their new reality. They are stuck in a time warp.

Democrats are in a bad position. However, they are not powerless. They can make a difference in the governing of N.C. So far in 2023, they are not even trying.