Sixteen new Democratic legislators are set to take office this month. Their accession will transform state politics After seven years of near-tyranny, Phil Berger will no longer get to run our state like a countrified despot. I can’t wait to watch Roy Cooper flex his muscles–and anyone with progressive instincts should feel the same hopeful anticipation.

But we should temper our expectations. The NCGOP is, simply put, an extremist faction. Not only their leadership, but their rank and file, stand implacably opposed to progress. And their visceral hostility to government has sent their policymaking skills into severe atrophy. Even dry, technocratic reforms such as medical provider deregulation lie beyond their abilities.

Governor Cooper’s priorities are likely to be stymied. Because he is comfortable leaving his mill-town constituents without health insurance, Berger will stop Medicaid expansion in its tracks. Republicans will feint toward rural development, but they are more interested in keeping taxes as low as possible on the wealthy than giving small towns a bit of hope. Even budget negotiations may well end in disappointment. As John Hood points out to his satisfaction, state law directs government to operate at current funding levels in the event that elected officials cannot reach a deal. That’s not hard to imagine.

The composition of the legislature has changed dramatically. But the GOP leadership remains power-hungry and bitterly partisan. Their bulldozing of ethics investigations proves this obstinacy beyond dispute. Nor have they changed their tone. Consider what David Lewis said to (too-kind) columnist Colin Campbell. “The governor is going to have to learn to talk with this body,” lectured Lewis, “and the minority party is going to have to have to learn to work constructively instead of casting stones from the sidelines.” Lewis pretty much hates Democrats.

NCGOP bulls control our legislature despite losing the popular vote. That’s reason enough to keep our expectations low, and to keep pushing until we finally install a leadership that cares for the common good.


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