A look at the top five N.C. political stories of 2013
RALEIGH - As 2013 winds down, it's time to look back at the top stories of
the year in North Carolina politics.
Perhaps the story that attracted the most attention this year, both
statewide and nationally, was the series of protests held by opponents of
the Republican-led General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory.
Led by the state chapter of the NAACP and dubbed "Moral Mondays," these
demonstrations grew in size over the course of the legislative session and
ultimately resulted in almost 1,000 arrests, along with countless news
outlets across the country reporting on the happenings in Raleigh.
Republican General Assembly exerts its power
Much of the energy driving the Moral Monday protests was in response to
legislation passed by the General Assembly. For the first time in more than
a century, Republicans in 2013 controlled both chambers of the legislature
and the governor's office.
The GOP flexed its muscle by passing bills requiring a photo ID to vote
beginning in 2016, cutting unemployment benefits, overhauling the state's
tax code, expanding charter schools and implementing new regulations on
abortion. All of these measures attracted controversy, but were ultimately
signed into law by McCrory.
McCrory loses bipartisan support
Gov. McCrory won overwhelmingly in 2012 with 55 percent of the vote and
began his term with pretty strong approval numbers, according to a January
survey from Public Policy Polling (PPP). That poll showed 45 percent of
voters approving of the newly inaugurated governor, 19 percent disapproving
and 36 percent unsure of his job performance. At the time, nearly half of
all Democrats said they were uncertain of their opinion on McCrory.
However, as the legislative session wore on and McCrory took positions on
controversial issues, opinions about his performance solidified along the
partisan divide. A December PPP survey shows a slight dip in McCrory's
overall approval, which now stands at 42 percent, but his disapproval has
risen to 47 percent. Only 9 percent of Democrats are unsure of his job
performance, with 71 percent disapproving.
Attorney General Roy Cooper steps out
N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has been a relatively quiet
figure in state politics since his first election to the post in 2000. In
fact, in 2012 he faced no opposition at all in seeking reelection to a
Yet as the Republicans in charge of state government started exerting their
power, Cooper began to speak out as the de facto head of the N.C. Democratic
Party. Most prominently, he publicly criticized the voter ID and elections
overhaul bill passed by the General Assembly. By the end of 2013, Cooper
made it all but official that he will challenge McCrory in the 2016
2014 U.S. Senate race heats up early
North Carolina's 2014 U.S. Senate contest is shaping up to be one of the
most competitive in the country. Republicans view the seat, currently held
by incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, as essential to winning back the
Senate. And Democrats seem prepared to defend the seat at all costs.
All of which has led to more than $4.9 million in outside spending in the
race already, according to the North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation. In
the end, this could end up being the most expensive race in the nation.
This was another big year in North Carolina politics. Next year should be
equally interesting with a major U.S. Senate race, along with all 13
congressional districts, the entire N.C. General Assembly and four N.C.
Supreme Court seats on the ballot in November. Needless to say, voters are
going to have to do their homework in 2014 to keep up.
(Brent Laurenz is executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education,
a Raleigh-based nonprofit and nonpartisan organization dedicated to helping
citizens fully participate in democracy.)