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The Party Line is dedicated to examining regional issues and policies through the figures who give shape to them. These are critical, complex, and even downright confusing times we live in. There’s a lot to navigate nationally and in the Carolinas; whether it’s elections, debates on gay marriage, public school closings, or tax incentives for economic development. The Party Line’s goal is to offer a provocative, intelligent look at the issues and players behind the action; a view that ultimately offers the necessary insight for Carolina voters to hold public servants more accountable.

GOP Lawmakers Best Be Careful Heading Into General Election

Now that that the ‘short’ session of the North Carolina General Assembly is underway, we’ll see if ‘short’ truly lives up to its definition. With the Republicans still in super-majority control, the likelihood is that the legislative time will live up to its name.

And it’s not just for the sake of having to bear summers in the capital city, but rather the stakes that are associated with a major mid-term election battle.

With one of its chamber leaders seeking to unseat a troubled Democratic U.S. Senator, Republicans may want to avoid the animosity and anger generated by their long session last year. 

While the animosity to the Legislature doesn’t match its national counterpart, the level of disapproval appears quite prevalent within the state toward the General Assembly.

About one-quarter of respondents to Public Policy Polling said they approved of the legislature last year, and nearly half disapproved.

There was also a bipartisan feeling toward both Democrats and Republicans: For the most part, it was only members of their respective party who gave favorable views of each. 

Much of the disapproval came from what appeared as a sharp right turn from when the General Assembly had been under Democratic control. While many commentators lambasted the super-majority Republicans, their stamp on state government gave conservatives, especially members of the influential Tea Party faction, the chance to ensure their policy choices were enacted.

But this conservative crown on policy choices led to the rise of the Moral Monday movement, reacting to the perceived and actual threat against their own policy views and interests.

A battle royal between the two sides, with one legislative side completely dominating while the other side could only get arrested in protest, may have demonstrated the danger in one-party absolute control.

And when the governor of the majority party attempted to reign in his own members, his own legislative party simply overrode his veto, sending the signal to “get in line or get out of the way.”

This year the chief executive hopes to execute a more aggressive approach in dealing with his legislative counterparts, having come out with proposals for raises for all teachers and addressing the coal ash issue.

But the relationship was set long before McCrory had a chance to enter the governor’s mansion last year. The legislative Republicans were well on their way to executing their own policies and no way were they going to be blocked.

This year, however, the legislative GOP may need to look not just to the governor’s office but further down the calendar, into the fall’s general election.  And while the Republican control of the state legislature isn’t in any real danger of failing to keep a majority, the signals that are sent to the electorate at large could have an effect on Speaker Tillis’ goal of changing his title to U.S. senator.

One of the easiest ways to ensure the opposition shows up to the polls for an election is to threaten them, and Democrats and incumbent U.S. Senator Kay Hagan will most likely use every proposal coming out of Raleigh to frame Tillis as threatening Democrats.

And while Tillis will use the Republican-led accomplishments out of the legislature for his own rallying cry, never underestimate when a voter feels threatened; the revenge is often served at the ballot box.

Dr. Michael Bitzer is an associate professor of politics and history at Catawba College, where he also serves as the 2011-2012 Swink Professor for Excellence in Classroom Teaching and the chair of the department of history & politics. A native South Carolinian, he holds graduate degrees in both history and political science from Clemson University and The University of Georgiaââ