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Getting ready to watch the North Carolina legislature

By D. G. Martin
Posted Sunday, January 16, 2011

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Chapel Hill, NC - Watch out! The legislature is coming back to Raleigh this month.

“Nothing is safe while they are in session,” the old hands say. They are only half joking.

That rule will not change this year in North Carolina as Republicans take control.

But some things will change. Here are a few examples.

*A bunch of new lobbyists.

For instance, the state’s trial lawyers’ organization, the N.C. Advocates for Justice, which usually looks for Democrats to support its agenda, has hired a Republican lobbyist, Raleigh lawyer Philip Isley. Other interest groups and businesses will replace or supplement their lobbying representatives with Republicans.

In 1995, when Republicans won control of the state house of representatives, I was the chief lobbyist for the UNC-System. My Democratic background was not an asset as the new Republican majority was concerned. Still, with new help from former Elon President Earl Danieley, UNC Vice President Bill McCoy, and UNC Board Chair Cliff Cameron, all of whom had strong Republican connections, the university system fared pretty well.

Political connections are not always determinative. Some of the best lobbyists keep their personal politics to themselves.

But when a lobbyist needs to get in the door of the speaker or the senate leader, it does not hurt to be the same political family.

In Raleigh, if you want something from state government, it pays to have friends in power. A couple of former Democratic insiders were acting on this principle a few weeks after the election when they hurried to hold a fundraiser for members of the new Republican majority.

*Assertions of permanent Republican control.

The new legislative leaders will talk a lot about how the shift to a Republican majority will not be reversed. There is a reason for their claim. It is fundraising. If the interest groups who make political donations to those in power really believe this claim, they will not “hedge their bets” by also making some gifts to Democrats.

*New things on the legislature’s agenda.

Each one of the newly elected members of the legislature wants to “do something.” Look for lots of bills with symbolic directions like when the Pledge of Allegiance must be recited, when the national and state flags must be displayed, and maybe, following the U.S. House, a requirement that the state constitution be read at some session.

On a more serious side, substantive issues like abortion restrictions, private and religious school incentives, and the privatization of liquor sales will get prime time consideration.

The possible elimination of the state ABC system might cause an interesting split within the Republican majority. Good religious conservatives want to maintain state control of distribution of alcohol. Good libertarian leaning Republicans want to get the government out all businesses including liquor sales.

*Budget cutting. The legislature’s efforts to close the $4 billion state budget gap are going to be painful. Everybody seems to know that simply “eliminating waste” cannot close the gap. But serious ideas like the one raised by John Sanders, former Director of the Institute of Government, are rare. In a letter to the editor Sanders proposed that “that the governor order the reduction of all state employees' state salaries not constitutionally immune by a percentage sufficient to produce a total saving of $4 billion in 2011-12.”

*Reapportionment. Democrats will have to watch on the sidelines as Republicans use their newly-gained power to carve districts that will protect their legislative majority. Then they will see if they can, without hurting Republican incumbent U.S. Representatives, shift enough Republican voters into those held by Democrats like Mike McIntyre, Heath Shuler, Brad Miller, Larry Kissell, and Mel Watt.

If it were not so serious, this year’s legislative game might be more fun to watch than the Super Bowl.

D.G. Martin is hosting his final season of UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs Sundays at 5 p.m. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at

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Getting ready to watch the North Carolina legislature

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