The Political Year in Review

By Dan Boylan | Jan 02, 2017

Thomas Jefferson once said he wanted Democracy to be noisy. In 2016, North Carolina certainly didn't disappoint. The national, and even international, spotlight shined brightly and often as protesters disrupted legislative sessions at the General Assembly, a mercurial 70-year-old presidential candidate barnstormed the state and an LGBTQ rights law whipped up a culture war frenzy. Against the chaotic backdrop, for the second straight year Forbes ranked North Carolina second among the Best States for Business. Depending on one's perspective, Republicans continued to push a once- progressive Southern to the far-right or Democrats blocked sensible conservative legislation.

Presidential campaign: On the national level, some pundits called 2016 the year of the political earthquake, with North Carolina a crucial fault line. For Republican nominee Donald Trump the swing state was a must-win and while Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton won the state's urban areas, Red Republican votes ruled the rest of election day, helping Trump shock the political establishment with his national victory. Once he is sworn in, Trump, 70, will be the oldest and wealthiest person to assume the presidency, superseding Ronald Reagan and George Washington, respectively. He will also be the first president without prior military or other governmental service.

Governor's race: A nasty, nearly month-long stalemate in the governor's race ended in early December when Republican Gov. Pat McCrory conceded his bid for re-election to challenger, Democrat attorney general, Roy Cooper. Cooper initially declared victory on election night, when he led by roughly 4,000 votes. But weeks of acrimony and confusion gripped North Carolina as McCrory's campaign fired accusation after accusation that the election had been corrupted by votes cast by people who had died or felons ineligible to vote. When the last recount — 90,000 votes in Durham — showed little significant change, McCrory finally caved-in.

US Senate Race: Incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Richard M. Burr held off a well-funded challenge from Democrat Deborah Ross, a former state House member and American Civil Liberties Union director. Ross argued Burr, a U.S. House and Senate 20-year-veteran, was as an aloof Washington insider. Burr countered that Ross' ACLU background was too radical. He won 51 percent to 45.

State House and Senate Republican Supermajorities: Republicans gained a veto-proof supermajority, or three-fifths of the seats, in the state House and Senate in 2012 and maintained that edge in November's elections. As for leadership, House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, will serve another two years at the helm of the 120-member House chamber while Phil Berger, R­-Rockingham will lead the 50-member Senate for his fourth two-year term as Senate president pro tempore when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

The 2016 Budget: Working swiftly, the General Assembly closed up this year's short legislative on July 1st and delivered McCrory a $22.3 billion budget package, which adjusted the second year of the two-year budget approved in 2015. Highlights of the 235-page budget plan included teacher pay raises and performance bonuses, raises for rank-and-file state employees and also income tax cuts through higher standard deductions.

Major Legislation: When the General Assembly adjourned in July it brought to a close 40 legislative state House days and 43 Senate legislative days that saw a total of 141 bills become law. Major provisions of note included: an omnibus farm act benefiting the state's agricultural sector; transportation law changes requiring bicyclists to have a red rear light or wear reflective clothing at night; the regulation of police body and dashboard camera footage, which excludes the recordings from the public record laws; a statewide standing order that eases access to heroin overdose treatments; a Bitcoin, or virtual currency bill that gives the North Carolina Commissioner of Banks more authority to regulate electronic currencies; Sheyenne's Law, which increases the criminal penalty for boating under the influence;  and a clarification of the North / South Carolina border that began in the mid-90's.

Short Session Chaos: From 2007 to 2015, North Carolina lawmakers convened only two special sessions. This year five were called. Issues considered included the infamous HB2 'Bathroom Bill' which made it illegal for transgendered individuals to use bathrooms that didn't mirror the gender on their birth certificate. Another special session failed to repeal the controversial law, which led to boycotts of the state. Lawmakers also gathered to redraw legislative districts, approve Hurricane Matthew relief funds and finally -- to strip incoming governor Cooper of significant powers before his swearing-in. Pundits called the sessions unprecedented, protesters forced the cancellation of House and Senate proceedings and the state made international headlines for what was seen as serious discord.

Quotes of the Year: Honest, funny, touching or absurd -- 2016 was a great year for North Carolina political quotes. Here are a few of the year's best.

"I don't need a law to tell me right from wrong."  Dale Folwell, the Republican candidate for state treasurer, on joining corporate boards if he wins office. Treasurer Janet Cowell joined the board of directors of ChannelAdvisor. (THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 4/09/16)

"I don't read your newspaper as much as I used to." Gov. Pat McCrory's response to a question by a Charlotte Observer reporter about a transgender man profiled in their paper. THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/02/16

"We relinquished our adherence to the British crown and European powers over 200 years ago. The law is now in federal court, where it will be resolved."  Gov. Pat McCrory campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz, on the European Union's criticism of House Bill 2. (THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 5/13/16)

"Nah, we're good." Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, upon being asked to allow a floor vote on a proposal from Democrats to divert funding for private-school vouchers. (THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 6/3/16)

"It's real simple: I'm beginning to get old." U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, 60, on his decision that this year's re-election bid will be his final political campaign, win or lose. (THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 7/20/16)

"The truth is that if a farmer is growing five acres of hemp and you smoke all five acres, you won't get high. You might get other stuff, but you won't get high." Bob Crumley, chair of the N.C. Industrial Hemp Association, on comparing the Hemp plant to Marijuana. (THE SALISBURY POST, 11/03/16)


Dan Boylan writes for The Capital Press Association.