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2023 politics in WNC: State power and an almost supermajority

A photo of the North Carolina General Assembly building in Raleigh in the spring with an American flag and the state flag flying.
Courtesy of NC Legislature
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The new members of the NC General Assembly will be sworn in for the session on January 11.

The members of the 2023 North Carolina General Assembly will be sworn in on January 11. A national swing towards state political power, and a Republican supermajority in the Senate and state Supreme Court will all underpin the new legislative session.

About 25 percent of the General Assembly will be new faces, according to Chris Cooper, head of the Public Policy Institute at Western Carolina University.

Many of those in the House come from Western North Carolina especially in the Buncombe County area such as: Rep. Eric Ager (D) of District 114, who is replacing his father John Ager, Rep. Lindsey Prather (D) of District 115 and Rep. Jennifer Balkcom (R) of District 117 in Henderson County. Here’s how to contact all of the newly elected officials.

“This was a great year to be a Republican in Western North Carolina, as long as you don't live in Buncombe County,” said Cooper.

Republicans won big in the West at the local level and in the competitive race for NC-11 Congressional district. Republicans now have a supermajority in the NC Senate and a “working supermajority" in the NC House.

“You can sort of decide for yourself whether [a working supermajority] is a real thing that we're going to see, but the point is the Republicans have a lot more votes than the Democrats do,” said Cooper.

Republican Chuck Edwards won handily against Democratic candidate Jasmine Beach-Ferrara. Edwards was sworn in following the election of US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy after the vote was delayed for four days by Republicans.

Meanwhile in the state house, it looks like this year will be all about state’s rights. In recent years, federal issues such as Medicaid expansion, redistricting and abortion access have all been kicked back to the states. All three issues are expected to be discussed in the 2023 legislature.

Medicaid expansion

Republicans have signaled that they are ready to discuss Medicaid expansion - with caveats such as changes to current certificate of need policy, work requirements and expansions to nurse practitioner credentials.

“Kevin Corbin from North Carolina Senate District 50 has been a real player on this issue on the Senate side, he's a Republican who is one of the first to break for Medicaid expansion,” said Cooper.

Abortion Access

Republicans are interested in further restricting abortion access. In WNC, Republican Mike Clampitt was re-elected to represent the 119th District which includes Swain, Jackson and Transylvania Counties. Clampitt has previously sponsored at least two bills that would restrict abortion access. In 2017, Clampitt was a co-sponsor of a bill that would have declared that the right to life begins from the moment of fertilization. In 2021, Clampitt was one of the sponsors of a bill that would ban abortion after there is a “detectable heartbeat,” unless there is a medical emergency.

Redistricting

The NC General Assembly is waiting to hear from the U.S. Supreme Court on a redistricting case,
Moore v. Harper, which names House Speaker Tim Moore. Cooper says Moore’s argument is that only legislatures should have the power to draw district lines.

“They're pointing to some language in the Constitution that says that the states or the legislatures thereof get to decide the time, place, and manner of elections,” said Cooper.

Critics warn that an opinion in favor of Moore will worsen gerrymandering in North Carolina and that there needs to be checks and balances on state power over elections.

Local Power

A bill was introduced last session to make all elections partisan in Haywood County. The bill was co-sponsored by a couple of members of the house including Rep. Mike Clampitt and Rep. Mark Pless, both Republicans. This could be filed as a local bill, which means that it would not be able to be vetoed by the governor. This could also apply to current disagreements about the school calendar such as in Henderson County.

“Try to pay attention to these local bills, because they are a way to remake the state government where the governor has absolutely no say so,” said Cooper.

Packed Session

Top of mind for Cooper are questions about sports betting, medical marijuana and infrastructure issues following the big freeze and the Moore County power substation attack.

“It's going to be an action-packed legislative session and we haven't even talked yet about the budget,” said Cooper. “So this is a long session and what that means traditionally is this is when we also get a new budget. So a lot to watch in Raleigh.”

Lilly Knoepp serves as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina. She is a native of Franklin, NC who returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.