Politics & Government

How Tuesday’s NC primary election will — and won’t — change the General Assembly

The North Carolina Legislative Building in downtown Raleigh, pictured on Feb. 1, 2022. [email protected]

The North Carolina primary will shape the future of the state legislature, with a few current lawmakers losing their seats no matter what the results.

Here are key factors to consider for Tuesday’s primary election.

Ballard vs. Hise

The biggest factor in who stays or goes is the double-bunking of same party lawmakers from the latest version of district maps. There are four double-bunked races, with the most significant being the Western North Carolina primary race between Sen. Deanna Ballard and Sen. Ralph Hise in Senate District 47.

They both chair powerful committees in the Republican-majority General Assembly: Ballard leading education and Hise leading appropriations.

Sen. Deanna Ballard speaks during the N.C. Senate Education Committee meeting in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, July 21, 2021. Ethan Hyman [email protected]

As of Friday morning, voter turnout from their old districts favored them equally, politics professor Chris Cooper told The News & Observer in an interview.

“The math of this one makes it completely unpredictable,” he said.

Cooper said their race is the most interesting and important because they are both powerful and generally well-liked. He said predicting who will win is “a coin toss.”

Senator Ralph Hise voices opposition to SB 711, the NC Compassionate Care Act, which would legalize medical marijuana in North Carolina, during a Senate committee meeting on Thursday, August 26, 2021 at the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh, N.C. Robert Willett [email protected]observer.com

Governor steps into Fayetteville primary

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper made the uncharacteristic move of endorsing the primary opponent of a sitting Democratic senator, stepping into a race in Fayetteville. Fellow Democratic lawmaker state Rep. Billy Richardson called on Cooper to retract what he called a “mistake.”

Cooper endorsed a new candidate, Val Applewhite, in the primary against current state Sen. Kirk deViere. DeViere is one of four moderate Democratic senators in the caucus, but the only one that Cooper chose to oppose publicly.

DeViere was one of several Democrats who were part of budget negotiations with Republicans. Asked this week why he endorsed deViere’s opponent, the governor said that Applewhite “would make a great state senator and she believes in the things that I do.”

A PAC is spending money on ads against deViere, including one that PolitiFact NC rated “false.”

Campaign donations to deViere have come in from the Cumberland County Democrats, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and several corporate PACs. Applewhite has received money from groups supporting African American women candidates.

Jim Goodnight, the CEO of SAS Institute, donated to both deViere and Applewhite, state records show. The North Carolina Association of Educators, the statewide teacher advocacy group, endorsed deViere, as did his local Cumberland County educators group.

Senator Kirk deViere of Cumberland County, listens to debate on SB 105, the state budget, during the Senate session on Wednesday, November 17, 2021 in Raleigh, N.C. Robert Willett [email protected]

Cooper, the Western Carolina University politics professor, said that the governor’ s political risk is only potential “egg on his face” if deViere wins instead of Applewhite. “He’s still calculating enough not to spread himself too thin,” Chris Cooper said, about the governor opposing just one fellow sitting Democrat.

Whichever Democrat wins the primary is likely to face Republican Wesley Meredith in the general election. Meredith is a former state senator already, and once was defeated by deViere. Republicans currently hold a majority in the Senate, but not the supermajority needed to easily override Cooper vetoes. If Democrats lose the seat to a Republican, the balance of power in the Senate may shift as well.

“If that ends up being the race that costs him the supermajority, then I take back everything I said,” Chris Cooper said.

Running for higher office

Another change in the General Assembly comes from those seeking higher office.

Some lawmakers are leaving the legislature at the end of their current terms because they are running for Congress. Whether they proceed to the general election for those races depends on whether they make it through their primaries.

High-profile state senators who want to become federal lawmakers are Greenville Democratic Sen. Don Davis, Raeford Democrat Sen. Ben Clark, Flat Rock Republican Sen. Chuck Edwards, Charlotte Democrat Sen. Jeff Jackson and Cary Democratic Sen. Wiley Nickel.

Davis and Edwards are running in the most competitive races — Davis against former state Sen. Erica Smith for the District 1 U.S. House seat to replacing retiring Congressman G.K. Butterfield, and Edwards against incumbent and scandal-magnet Congressman Madison Cawthorn, in District 11.

No changes in some seats

The Republican leadership in 2022 in the legislature will remain after the general election.

Some state lawmakers have essentially already won because they are totally unopposed, both in the primary and the general election.

State lawmakers who are virtually guaranteed another term are Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, Republican House Speaker Tim Moore, Republican Senate Rules Chair Bill Rabon, Republican Senate Appropriations Chair Brent Jackson, Republican House Majority Leader John Bell, and Republican House Appropriations Chairs Jason Saine and Donny Lambeth.

House Speaker Tim Moore and Senator Phil Berger, pictured April 26, are in talks with Gov. Roy Cooper about the state budget. Robert Willett [email protected]

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Under the Dome politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it at https://campsite.bio/underthedome or wherever you get your podcasts.

This story was originally published May 13, 2022 4:39 PM.

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