In the opening days of the legislature, I noticed a drop in the political temperature. I believe that members on each side of the aisle viewed the upcoming legislative session as an opportunity to put November’s election behind them and move forward. N.C. voters sent a Republican supermajority to the Senate and a Republican majority to the House, plus a Republican sweep of statewide judicial races; nonetheless, the air seems a little more bipartisan than it has in recent months.
In the House, 12 Democrats were appointed to leadership roles on committees. The House speaker and the minority leader seem to have a genuine relationship built on respect. The “part-time” legislative schedule, late nights, and chaotic first week always build a level of camaraderie among members. So far, this year is no exception.
I’ve been working around the state legislature for many years, and I am quite proud of those we elect to serve. Generally, they are true public servants who pick up the phone when they are needed, attend hundreds of fundraisers, funerals, dinners, and meetings in their communities each year, in addition to meeting the needs of their own families and jobs.
The polarization we see in 24-hour news or on Capitol Hill is not as pronounced here in Raleigh. While I certainly see the vitriol, empty accusations, and name-calling on social media — usually behind the veil of an organization or pseudonym — in real life, face-to-face workdays at the General Assembly discussions are truly an exchange of ideas in search of a solution.
I encourage those who are fed up with the apparent lack of civility in politics to check out the livestream of committee meetings and floor sessions held each week on www.ncleg.gov. You’ll find that, for the most part, lawmakers do respect each other, celebrate birthdays, listen, debate, and find compromise when they can. We have some characters in our legislature and some really good people.
It’s easy to say this now; the session is barely a few weeks old, and there is still the looming issue of redrawing election district maps for 2024. I believe that members retreat to their political corners when discussions of actual policy morph into emotion-laden messaging in 280 characters, or catchy slogans for posterboard signs.
Over-simplifying important public policy to rally the base and get some airtime robs the legislative process of the chance to breathe and work. More importantly, it robs North Carolinians of the healthy economic and social environment that we all need to thrive here.
There is tremendous pressure on the members coming from outside of the Legislative Building: constituents, big industries, issue advocacy groups, donors, plus national and state parties. They are all keeping a close eye on the chambers as Republicans commence their 13th year holding the gavels after Democrats had almost all power for a century. While not a lawmaker, Gov. Roy Cooper can play an important role in keeping the civility of the legislative process intact or stoking anger to a boiling point.
Since 2016, his vetoes, behind-the-scenes strategic maneuvering, and relationships with the Council of State and legislative leaders have lit a fuse in many political battles. Democrats thought he was holding the line against Republicans and their policies, while Republicans thought he was overstepping his authority and using the judiciary to his political advantage. National media touts the bipartisan nature of North Carolina’s economic success, but vetoes and high-stakes partisan conflicts have become a hallmark of his tenure in the executive mansion.
Cooper will not be on the ballot again because he is term-limited. So far, he has not endorsed a potential successor, even though his close political ally, Attorney General Josh Stein, announced his candidacy for governor. I think that will help the session have a bit more dissection of policy, rather than politics.
Among many other things, North Carolina is known for neighborly kindness and civility. The legislative process should be no exception.