Gov. Pat McCrory will come across as a somewhat sensible man. The conservative Republican will tread the line between a chaotic, polarized Legislature hellbent on reshaping state government and an equally chaotic array of dissenters including a Democratic lieutenant governor, Linda Coleman.
This probable outcome—McCrory leads his Democratic opponent Walter Dalton by 10 points and millions in ad money, and Coleman is running a strong campaign for lieutenant governor—has great bearing on the future of North Carolina.
Right now, the odds say we're on the verge of an era in which Republicans will hold a monopoly on the legislative and executive branches.
If you're holding out hopes Dalton can make a comeback, keep in mind that while he'll benefit from straight-ticket voting and high Democratic base turnout, even now, in mid-October, he has devastatingly low name-recognition numbers.
Democrats also maintain they still have a shot at the House, where the split is 68 to 52. But the districts redrawn by the GOP leadership in 2011 have made the prospect of regaining enough seats to take the House far more daunting.
The new districts also account for several predictable outcomes. The first is turnover. The last session yielded a huge round of redistricting-driven retirements, including several Democratic lawmakers who had been double-bunked with fellow Democrats—forcing them to run against their colleagues. The next Legislature, which convenes on Jan. 9, will have a historic number of rookies in both parties, with more than half of the lawmakers elected in the last two years.
The second trend is a more fractious Democratic caucus, even more so than during the last session when defections on the budget, fracking and veto overrides were key to GOP legislative victories. Because the new districts tend to pack Democratic voters together, Dems who manage to win in Republican-leaning districts are likely to be more conservative; meanwhile, those running in strongly Democratic districts are being pulled farther left.
On the other side of the aisle, there are fewer of the already-rare GOP moderates, a trend hastened by the 2012 primaries during which all Republican candidates were forced to pay homage to the anti-gay proponents of Amendment 1 or risk defeat.
The state Senate stands at a veto-proof 31 to 19. Democrats may be able to tighten the margin through wins in the mountains, where the party has made strides in organizing, but only if they can thwart challenges in the Piedmont and farther east in districts shifted to favor Republicans.
So in less than a month, we'll quickly turn from politics to policy—and it's policy, not rhetoric, that affects people's lives.
The main players have not offered specifics on next year's agenda and reportedly have put the word out that no significant policy announcements are to be released prior to Election Day. If you were stunned by the last two years of the Republican agenda—slashed education budgets and environmental protections; an aggressive campaign against gays, women and the poor—wait until House Majority Leader Skip Stam and Co., unabated by a new Republican governor, get their way.
In 2011, the GOP leadership under Stam, House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger went about remaking state government in a hurry. They held statewide hearings on easing regulations, played hardball on the budget and unemployment insurance, and pushed through votes on Voter ID, abortion restrictions and budget cuts while gutting the Racial Justice Act.
This summer, the short session included fast-tracking fracking and taking a major first pass at restructuring education funding and governance. From what we've seen in the legislative and gubernatorial campaigns, Voter ID will be near the top of the agenda, along with additional attempts at government restructuring and measures likely to be labeled tax reform.
In its effort to reshape energy policy, the Legislature has done most of what it needs to do to clear the way for fracking. The last step is a formal vote to lift the moratorium on horizontal drilling. The rest is up to the executive branch, which under Bev Perdue has been cautious.
Under McCrory, fracking is no longer a maybe. The man likely to be the next governor sees it as a jobs and mineral riches windfall. And, as their recent hearings reminded us, if there was ever a stacked commission, the new Mining and Energy Commission, charged with overseeing fracking, is it. Expect some rowdy public hearings, but the fix is in.
Elsewhere, the General Assembly continues to tinker. Legislative hearings scheduled for this fall point to the potential for a major revamp of mental health services and revisions to the state's Medicaid standards.
Like the Legislature, which in 2010 came under control of the GOP for the first time since 1898, a GOP governor, the first since 1993, is going to want to shake things up.
If elected, McCrory gets the first shot at the budget, and he seems eager to put his stamp on education. He's also going to find himself in command of far more patronage slots than his predecessors, thanks to a parting gift from the Legislature in this year's budget adjustment bill, which increases the number of "exempted" (read political) positions from 400 to 1,000.
Some of those happy McCrory supporters aren't just cheering because of the poll numbers. They're cheering because next year, they'll have one thing half a million North Carolinians don't have—a job.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Future shock."