Local Politics

Economy is Hagan's first Senate challenge

Posted January 5, 2009 5:42 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— Democrat Kay Hagan will officially take office in the U.S. Senate at noon Tuesday, and she and her fellow legislators will then begin work on a proposed $800 billion stimulus package to help lift the economy out of recession.

"We're in the middle of the biggest economic recovery program since the New Deal, trying to keep the economy from collapsing," 13th District Congressman Brad Miller said.

Peace College political science professor David McLennan said that, in the coming days, Hagan's primary task is to get as much economic relief for North Carolina as possible.

"I think she'll be under the microscope just because conditions are as they are, with the economy as bad as it is," McLennan said. "As she enters the Senate, they're going to take up some very important pieces of legislation. The economic stimulus package is going to be very important, and she'll play a pivotal role there."

Hagan, who couldn't be reached for comment Monday, assumes a Senate seat held by Republicans for 36 years. The late Sen. Jesse Helms held the seat from 1972 until 2002, and former Sen. Elizabeth Dole won the seat upon his retirement.

Hagan defeated Dole in November after a bitter campaign, and Miller said she's coming to Washington at a critical time.

"She will be part of a stronger Democratic majority in the Senate, and for the last couple of years, the Senate has been the place where good ideas go to die," Miller said. "We need a stronger Senate than we've had."

The ceremony surrounding the swearing in of the new Congress also will feature some intrigue over the contested Senate election in Minnesota, where Democrat Al Franken holds a slim lead over GOP Sen. Norm Coleman, and whether the Senate will recognize Roland Burris as the successor to President-elect Barack Obama. Burriss was named to fill the remaining two years of Obama's term by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who has been charged with political corruption in trying to sell the seat.