Soles' criminal case latest blow to Senate Democrats
Posted December 11, 2009 7:10 p.m. EST
Updated December 11, 2009 8:01 p.m. EST
RALEIGH, N.C. — Political observers say the cloud of a potential indictment against long-time Democratic Sen. R.C. Soles, could provide a ray of sunshine for North Carolina Republicans.
A grand jury on Thursday Soles, D-Columbus, on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury.
Authorities have said that Soles shot a man in August after two intruders kicked in the front door of his Tabor City home. Soles' attorney, Joe Cheshire of Raleigh, has said Soles fired in self-defense, but the grand jury said their was enough evidence to conclude that he "unlawfully, willfully and feloniously" shot the man.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Roy Cooper said his office plans to present an indictment to the grand jury in January.
With 33 years in the Senate, Soles is currently the longest-serving member of the Senate. It's unclear whether he will step down, but observers said his legal troubles – people also have questioned his relationships with young men – and other recent Democratic moves could open the door for Republicans in next fall's elections.
"If the wind is in their sails because of scandal in North Carolina (and) a sluggish economic recovery at the federal level and if Democrats don't overwhelm them with money, (Republicans could pick up a few Senate seats)," political analyst John Davis said Friday.
Davis notes that Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand plans to resign to become chairman of the state parole commission and Sens. David Hoyle, D-Gaston, Julia Boseman, D-New Hanover, have recently announced that they don't plan to seek re-election.
Republicans need to pick up just five seats in the Senate to forge a 25-25 split with Democrats, Davis said.
Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight scoffed at notions that Senate Democrats are in trouble, saying people have incorrectly predicted the party's demise before. He said he's already working to make sure turnover keeps Senate Democrats in charge.
"I'm running. People will change. The philosophy won't change," Basnight said.
Meanwhile, Gov. Beverly Perdue stopped short Friday of calling for Soles' to step down. On Wednesday, she signed executive orders to remove any gubernatorial appointee who has been indicted.
"I hope the senator and the judicial system come to terms very quickly and go forward or put this away. The people of North Carolina do not deserve and should not have another major distraction," Perdue said.