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Weary North Carolina voters wish for a less acrimonious 2017

Posted January 10

— In politically divided North Carolina, weary voters are hoping elected officials can set aside differences and effectively govern after a bruising election and bitter fight over transgender restroom access.

The Republican-controlled legislature is due back Wednesday, tasked with working with new Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who is already fighting GOP lawmakers in court over their recent moves to curtail his powers.

Across the political spectrum, voters say they wish state leaders would get along – a sentiment felt keenly in evenly divided Granville County, home to roughly 60,000 people. Exemplifying the state's urban-rural divide, Granville County lies at the edge of metro areas surrounding the cities of Raleigh and Democratic-leaning Durham but also has sparsely populated stretches of countryside once famed for tobacco growing.

"I'm just hoping that it will be seamless, and they'll allow Roy Cooper to do what he was elected to do and not try to gridlock him," Oxford resident Jim Catalana said of the legislature.

But a respite might not come anytime soon.

Cooper has already sued over a move by lawmakers to reduce his role in how elections are run, one of several legal provisions to limit his power enacted after he narrowly beat Republican incumbent Pat McCrory.

Catalana said he hopes 2017 brings positive change after the economic backlash over the law known as House Bill 2, which excludes sexual orientation and gender identity from anti-discrimination protections and is known best for requiring transgender people to use public restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates.

Catalana, an unaffiliated voter, voted four years ago for McCrory, but said House Bill 2 was partly why he picked Cooper this time. Granville County gave Cooper the narrowest margin of any county he won.

Though he describes himself as politically conservative, voter Brent Stewart said that returning to rules in place before House Bill 2 was enacted last year would suit him.

"What has been in place has worked for years," said Stewart, who owns a restaurant in Oxford, the county seat.

He split his ballot between Cooper and Republican President-elect Donald Trump, who also won Granville County by a few hundred votes. Stewart said he hopes Republicans and Democrats can agree on business-friendly policies that don't tie up small businesses in regulations.

"I think most citizens, everyone wants a reduction in having so much red tape," he said.

A failed deal to repeal House Bill 2 in December left both parties frustrated. Legislators will take up organizational issues Wednesday, then reconvene later this month to work on new legislation.

Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union, said the Senate agenda for the session will look much like the last three sessions of GOP control.

"(We want) to move forward with further reducing taxes, reducing the size of government, holding the line on spending and keep the momentum going that Fortune 500 magazine (says) makes us the No. 2 state in the country to do business," Tucker said. "We want to keep that mantra moving so we continue to create jobs."

House Rules Chairman David Lewis said House leaders are cautiously optimistic about the new session.

"We look forward to finding common ground with the governor," said Lewis, R-Harnett. "We think there are things that we can work with him on and look forward to actually having a dialogue with him without having to go to court in order to talk to him."

Lewis was referring to Cooper's lawsuit over his appointment powers. That new state law has been put on hold by a three-judge panel until they can rule on its constitutionality.

Other new fights are emerging, such as Cooper's effort to expand Medicaid despite a 2013 law preventing him from doing so without legislative approval.

Republican state Senate leader Phil Berger swiftly condemned the move, calling it "blatantly illegal."

In his inaugural address Saturday, Cooper sounded conciliatory but also jabbed at lawmakers: "Now is not the time to point fingers or dwell on recent battles."

"I don't think anyone believes that North Carolina families sit around the kitchen table every night thinking that their lives would change for the better if only the legislature would spend its time on the hot-button social issues of the day," he said.

Meanwhile, there's an ongoing fight over whether state lawmakers will have to run in special elections this year. A federal court ruled last summer that 28 legislative districts were illegally race-based, but its order to draw new districts was halted Tuesday while the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to take up the case.

Toni Richardson, a Democrat who works in Oxford and lives in neighboring Vance County, said she wants lawmakers to focus on job creation. The 62-year-old faulted McCrory for signing measures to curtail Cooper's power.

McCrory "had a bad attitude and took it out on Roy Cooper, and that isn't fair," Richardson said.

Leaving the Oxford post office with a handful of letters, Democrat Gwen Toler said she saw glimmers of bipartisan cooperation on disaster relief following a 2016 hurricane and wildfires. But then came weeks of sparring over vote-counting in the close governor's race.

The retired secretary said she hopes state government will tackle homelessness, rising tuition costs and veterans' issues. "Not nonsense like the HB2 law," she said. "Who goes in what bathroom, it's stupid to me."

Toler, who's about to turn 60, said society's divisions are reflected in greater distrust among neighbors.

"I wish there was more love in the community," she said.

3 Comments

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  • Benjamin Kite Jan 10, 3:45 p.m.
    user avatar

    Strategically, regionally, and procedurally, America and North Carolina has fairly selected an [R] government. We must yield in awe at their superior election strategy and consolidation of power. At the same time, it is undeniable that the national platform that won the popular vote was decidedly blue Democrat. The polarized election results MERIT polarized governmental behaviors. Compromise should happen only when the two sides have meaningful inroads to understand each other, BUT WE DO NOT have meaningful roads to understand each other. Red and Blue are living among each other, and speaking different languages. Perhaps, we need to stay that way for a while so that something meaningful can come to the fore. I do not agree that this is the time for compromise.

  • Roy Pine Jan 10, 2:47 p.m.
    user avatar

    66.1% of the state's population live in those "blue urban areas". So if you feel that representing 2/3 of the people is pandering, I suggest you go find another state to live in. Although you'd better hurry, there's only 3 or 4 left with less than 50% urban population.

  • Thom Stark Jan 10, 1:46 p.m.
    user avatar

    I am going to the contrary here. I hope 2017 is just as revolutionary as 2016. The establishment needs to have it kept front and center that the people who work and pay for this, have had enough and want results. We do not want the continual pandering to the vocal minority, and the blue urban areas. It's easy: stop illegal immigration and secure the borders, repeal Obamacare and reform and lower taxes.