The halls of the legislature have been unusually quiet since lawmakers adjourned the 2015-16 session on July 1st, with just a few Committees convening to begin their work. Typically, the the period between sessions is when a majority of the groundwork for the next session’s significant legislation is accomplished. It is unlikely, however, that much of that work will be done publicly before the November 8th election. Although Committee work at the General Assembly has been subdued thus far, leadership from both chambers and the Governor’s office have been dealing with several lawsuits regarding legislation, including legislative redistricting.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina ruled earlier this month that the current legislative districts drawn for the NC House and NC Senate were unconstitutional. Of the 170 districts, 28 were found to be racial gerrymanders by the panel. The ruling requires lawmakers to redraw the maps when they return in 2017 for the 2018 election, while allowing the maps to stand for this election due to time constraints.
Federal judges find NC legislative districts unconstitutional – Charlotte Observer
Another three-judge panel, this time of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled that the State’s 2013 voter identification law, requiring voters to present acceptable photo identification in order to vote, violated the Voting Rights Act. The law also reduced the number of days for early voting by a week and eliminated Sunday voting, while still requiring the same number of total hours for early voting as in previous elections. The State appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court with outside counsel, after Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) refused to defend the law. The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday split 4-4 due to the current vacancy on the court, denying a stay to allow the law to be in effect for the November elections. This means that ID is not required to vote this election and the time period for early voting returns to 17 days rather than 10. These and several other changes in the legislation were also overturned. The federal challenge has temporarily halted proceedings of another challenge to the law at the State level.
NC will defend voter ID without attorney general – N&O
State court puts voter ID trial on hold in light of federal rulings – WRAL
NC House Majority Leader Rep. Hager (R-Rutherford) resigned from the General Assembly, citing the desire to devote more time to family and “pursue other opportunities”. Hager was largely seen as the leader of the conservative wing of the House GOP caucus. Hager was in the process of seeking reelection to his House seat this year before resigning. Hager initially had no general election opposition until an Unaffiliated candidate, Ben Edwards, gained enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The Rutherford County GOP has selected Rutherfordton attorney David Rodgers to serve the remainder of Hager’s term and replace him on the ballot. Hager is the third member of the House GOP leadership team not returning to the General Assembly next year, in wake of the resignation last month of former House GOP Conference Leader, Rep. Jeter (R-Mecklenburg) and Speaker Pro-Tem Rep. Stam (R-Wake), who has not resigned but is not seeking reelection.
Majority Leader Mike Hager to resign seat in NC House – WBTV
Rep. John Bell (R-Wayne), who previously served as House Majority Whip, was selected by the House GOP caucus to serve as Majority Leader through the remainder of the 2015-16 session. Bell, a strong supporter of Speaker Moore’s, faced Rep. Speciale (R-Craven), who is arguably one of the most conservative members of the House GOP caucus, and is often at odds with the Speaker. Bell will serve in the role through the election cycle and assist Rep. Saine (R-Lincoln) and the recently elected House Conference Chairman, Rep. Szoka (R-Cumberland), in the House GOP’s fundraising and reelection efforts. He will have to stand for reelection to the leadership post in January, should the GOP maintain their majority. It is unclear whether he will have opposition for the post when the 2017-18 session convenes. Rep. Arp (R-Union) was selected to serve as Majority Whip and Rep. McElraft (R-Carteret) was elected Deputy Majority Whip.
Rep. Szoka picked to lead NC House GOP election effort – Fayetteville Observer
NC House Republicans select new majority leader – N&O
Another surprise resignation this month came from now former Rep. Catlin (R-New Hanover), who was not seeking reelection. Catlin had cited focusing more time on his engineering firm as a reason for not seeking reelection. After being selected by the New Hanover County GOP, Holly Grange (R-New Hanover) was recently sworn in to serve the remainder of Catlin’s unexpired term in House District 20. Rep. Grange, the Republican nominee for the seat following a heated primary in March, is also unopposed in her bid to succeed Catlin in November.
Rick Catlin resigns from NC House – WECT
Grange officially sworn in to replace Catlin in General Assembly – WECT
The Senate will also convene next year with a very different leadership team. The 2017 absence of Senate Finance Chairman Sen. Rucho (R-Mecklenburg), who is not seeking reelection this fall, and the resignation of Senate Rules Chairman Sen. Apodaca (R-Henderson) are largely responsible for this. Senate Republicans are likely to maintain their majority and Sen. Berger (R-Rockingham), the Senate Pro-Tem, is likely to retain his post. It is widely believed that current Senate Majority Leader and Appropriations Chairman, Sen. Brown (R-Onslow), will become the new Rules Chairman. Although no one has been officially appointed as the New Rules Chair, Sen. Brown’s appointment would cause movement within the Chairmanships of the Appropriations Committee. The remaining Finance Committee Chairs include Sen. Rabon (R-Brunswick) and Sen. Tillman (R-Randolph), and it is unclear if Sen. Berger intends to replace Sen. Rucho or further shuffle the deck. It is also unclear if Sen. Brown will seek to retain his post as Majority Leader should he become Rules Chairman.
The local Republican parties of the 48th Senate District chose Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson), the Republican nominee hoping to succeed Sen. Apodaca in November, to fill the unexpired term following the Senator’s resignation. Sen. Edwards was sworn in to represent the 48th Senate District, which includes all of Henderson and Transylvania Counties and part of Buncombe County. Although he faces an opponent in the general election, Edwards is expected to carry the district, which has a strong Republican lean.
Republicans Pick Chuck Edwards to Serve Out N.C. Sen. Apodaca's Term – Transylvania Times
Other Election News:
Elimination of straight-ticket voting could leave more ballots incomplete – N&O
NBC’s Chuck Todd will moderate gubernatorial debate – Charlotte Observer
Lesser-known NC candidates will get debates this year – N&O
Democrats confident of breaking ‘super-majority’ in NC House – Charlotte Observer
Burr sticks to low-key style in NC re-election bid – WRAL
Ten years after NC's last execution, AG candidates concur death penalty should stay law – WRAL
In Other News
Former Union County Senator and chief budget writer Aaron Plyler recently passed away. Sen. Plyler was a longtime member of the North Carolina General Assembly serving in both chambers and carrying tremendous respect across partisan lines.
Aaron Plyler, a powerful senator and advocate for higher education, dies – Charlotte Observer
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of a unified court system, a district court system, as well as the establishment of the AOC, North Carolina’s judicial branch is aiming to educate people about the importance of the State’s courts. Volunteers from the legal profession, including attorneys and judges, will speak to schools as well as other groups and organizations in an effort to further educate the State’s population.
NC launches educational program on court system – N&O
Just for fun, the Charlotte Observer also has an interesting write-up here on how you should read polling results.