North Carolina GOP makes some gains, but governor’s veto power still intact

Published 10:31 am Sunday, November 13, 2022

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By Gary D. Robertson, Associated Press

North Carolina Republicans appeared to fall just short of gaining a large enough majority in the state’s General Assembly elections to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes on their own. But, their seat gains eroded further the Democrats’ ability to block bills on abortion and other highly contested legislation in the governor’s final two years in office.

Republican legislative leaders celebrated on Wednesday winning a handful of additional seats, which they say is evidence that the public likes their economic and education agenda. But while the Senate GOP increased their seats in the 50-seat chamber from 28 to 30 — the number needed to have a veto-proof majority come January — Speaker Tim Moore said Republicans were one seat shy of a similar power threshold in the House.

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Republicans won 70 House seats and were narrowly leading in one more race. That and another House race led by a Democrat remained too early for The Associated Press to call as of Wednesday afternoon. Seventy-two seats are needed for a veto-proof margin.

The results could mean Republican leaders won’t be able to successfully override Cooper’s vetoes at will — even if GOP lawmakers are united — unless they get help from at least one Democrat. Cooper is barred by term limits from reelection in 2024.

In the past four years without Republican veto-proof majorities, none of Cooper’s 47 vetoes have been overridden. They included vetoes on legislation designed to loosen gun laws and COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, and make limited abortion changes.

Having veto-proof majorities in both chambers would have given Republicans the ability to pass policy prescriptions without having to persuade Cooper and his fellow Democrats to support them. Moore downplayed the seat shortfall.

“Of course I would like 72. But I will tell you, for all intents and purposes, we have a governing supermajority,” Moore said. “We have a handful of Democrats who work with us. We have some new members coming in. And I feel completely confident that should we need to override vetoes, we’ll be able to do our part (in) the House as well.”

Getting Democratic assistance on abortion restrictions, which Republicans have said they are prepared to consider next year in light of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down Roe v. Wade, could be different. Cooper, Democratic candidates and abortion-rights groups campaigned on or spent millions of dollars warning voters that Republicans could pass severe abortion restrictions if they gained veto-proof majorities.

Cooper tweeted late Tuesday night that “North Carolinians voted for balance and progress” and that he’ll keep working with the legislature “to support a growing economy, more clean energy, better health care and strong public schools.”

At a Wednesday news conference outside the Legislative Building, abortion-rights advocates said it’s crucial Democratic lawmakers stick together to back Cooper.

“It’s a razor-thin margin,” Jillian Riley of Planned Parenthood Votes! South Atlantic said. “Any politician that interprets the results of this election as a mandate to pass a ban on abortion is gravely misreading the electorate.”

Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger said on Wednesday that discussions haven’t yet occurred about what to do on abortion, which is currently prohibited in North Carolina after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with some narrow exceptions.

“We’ll see what is possible for us to do, if anything, but no decision has been made on that,” Berger said. He’s said previously that he would favor restrictions on abortion after roughly the first three months of pregnancy. Moore has said he personally supports preventing abortions once cardiac activity can be detected by the ultrasound of an embryo, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

The state constitution’s rules require 60% of the members present in each chamber to vote to override for one to be successful, so absences can adjust the vote margins necessary.

Cooper’s current run of successful vetoes reflect his ability to corral fellow Democrats when in a pinch.

“Cooper’s the right person to hold things together, but one vote is just one vote,” said Mac McCorkle, a Duke University public policy professor and former adviser to two previous North Carolina Democratic governors.

House Minority Leader Robert Reives of Chatham County said on Wednesday that some fellow Democrats may be less inclined to cross over to help Republicans after what he called a nasty campaign season.

Senate Republicans expanded their majority in part by unseating longtime Sen. Toby Fitch of Wilson County, who lost to former GOP Sen. Buck Newton. They also managed to hold a competitive seat in New Hanover County by getting GOP Sen. Michael Lee reelected. And Republican Sen. Bobby Hanig defeated Democrat Valerie Jordan in a northeastern district.

Democrats won a pair of Senate seats fully or partially within Wake County, where abortion had become a top issue. Sen. Sydney Batch defeated Marc Cavaliero, while Mary Wills Bode won over E.C. Sykes.

In the House, Republicans were successful in unseating a handful of incumbent Democrats. They include Reps. Howard Hunter III of Hertford County; James Gailliard of Nash County; Terry Garrison of Vance County; and Ricky Hurtado of Alamance County. Redistricting forced pairs of Republican incumbents to run for the same seat in the May primary, decreasing the number of those who could return to Raleigh in 2023.

Associated Press/Report for America writer Hannah Schoenbaum contributed to this report.