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Getting A Lay Of The Land In NC Politics After 2020 Election

North Carolina Legislative building

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper will stay in office for another term as Republicans held on to their majorities in the state House and Senate. To find out what four more years of a Democratic governor and Republican legislature mean for North Carolina politics, we turn to Mac McCorkle. He's a professor and director of the politics center at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.

Gwendolyn Glenn: Thanks for being with us.

Mac McCorkle: Thank you.

Glenn: So, Professor McCorkell, (state) Senate leader Phil Berger released a statement last night congratulating Gov. Cooper on his victory, but also commenting on the lawsuits over redistricting maps and the lawsuits from this election over voting rules for absentee ballots by mail. Now, Berger says he hopes to see "a departure from the divisive partisan lawsuits" given that voters have elected a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature. Do you see those two branches working together better than they have in the past?

Mac McCorkle.jpg
Duke University
Pope "Mac" McCorkle

McCorkle: Maybe if COVID-19 continues to be a major public health problem and threat to the North Carolina economy, you could see some cooperation, which we've already seen between the Republican legislative leadership and Gov. Cooper, simply because the issue is important. And I think both sides would feel like if they were not cooperating, they would be criticized heavily by the public. That's probably the best scenario for cooperation.

Glenn: And you mentioned coronavirus. There were a few clashes, such as Cooper's Republican challenger, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, filing a lawsuit over Cooper's use of executive orders. Could this relative cooperation on COVID-19 continue? Or now that the election is over, will we see a more contentious battle over that?

McCorkle: We may, the fact that Lt. Gov. Forest chose to go further on the extreme against Gov. Cooper rather than the approach of the legislative leadership. That was a smart move on the Republican legislative leadership side. The Republicans feel more emboldened because they gained seats in the House. Democrats only gained one. So there will not be a supermajority. So the Republicans can't push their own agenda through without a veto.

But the most disappointing thing is for the Democrats, is that the Republicans are going to be able to redraw district lines based on the new census. And the governor is not involved in that. He doesn't have a veto. One of the things that Vice President Biden hangs on to his leads and actually is the president, that's Gov. Cooper's biggest ally, will probably be Biden helping with the coronavirus problems and helping the state because we're in uncharted territory here. The state budget is a wreck and it's going to be very hard for people on either side to conceive of a balanced state budget. So there might be some pressure on Republicans to cooperate, especially if there is a new administration in Washington that's offering a lot of assistance.

Glenn: Well, let's shift to Medicaid expansion. That was a stumbling block to get a budget last year. What could make Medicaid expansion happen next year?

McCorkle: COVID. If COVID-19 continues to ravage people's lives and threaten the economy here and people are going to be losing jobs. The issue is going to be more and more pressure, I think, on Republicans to put on board, like Mike Pence did when he was governor. And if COVID gets to be something that is in our rearview mirror, maybe Medicaid expansion won't be big. But as long as COVID-19 is around, that's going to be a big issue for people.

Glenn: Now, another sticking point is teacher raises. There wasn't an across the board agreement on raises during the last budget attempt. Will that stalemate continue?

McCorkle: That goes to the budget question and what the revenue situation is going to look like. It's very hard to conceive of the state unless the economy gets back into full swing. Being able to fund something like teacher raises. That's where it'd be interesting if the federal government under a Biden administration, if that happens, would be offering state assistance. That might be an offer that even Republicans couldn't refuse.

Glenn: So what areas do you see the two parties working together, if any?

McCorkle: COVID. If that goes away, if that gets in the rearview mirror. Well, when it does, I think we might see less cooperation and more of the typical ideological issues. I mean, in many respects, North Carolina is so ideologically divided. And Gov. Cooper distinguished himself from the rest of the pack last night, largely based on his, what people would say, nonideological handling of the crisis.

Glenn: And finally, these results in the General Assembly were from districting maps that had bipartisan support. What do last night's election results tell you about the future of party control in the legislature?

McCorkle: Again, I think the Democrats were hoping for an emerging Democratic majority. The Republicans will try to press their advantage through new redistricting maps, not the state courts are involved, even though that's gotten much closer. We'll have to see how that shakes out. I guess where we're headed for the foreseeable future is being a divided state with some limited cooperation. But I'm not seeing any big initiatives, being able to decide, being able to launch any major issues, one, because we're so closely divided into unless the economy recovers, there's not going to be money for any new initiative.

Mac McCorkell is a professor and director of the politics center at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.

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