The new year brings with it a new North Carolina governor, Democrat Roy Cooper, but much of the same cast that has dominated state politics in the past two years, including Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore.
Here are a few things to watch in state politics in 2017.
1. The relationship between Cooper and legislative leaders. Even before Cooper took office, the legislature voted to strip him of some of his powers.
Legislative leaders and Cooper pointed fingers over who was responsible for the disintegration of a deal to repeal HB2, the law limiting LGBT rights.
The relationship between Cooper and the legislature will be an ongoing story in the new year. The interchanges between the legislative and executive branches will determine how state government functions. Will it be four years of bared teeth, or will the two sides find some common ground?
2. A federal appeals court ordered the legislature to redraw legislative district lines to fix 28 districts the court determined were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. And the court said the lines have to be redrawn in time for new elections this year.
Republicans have appealed the original ruling; they don’t want to redraw the lines. If they lose in court, legislators could be running in redrawn districts in an off-year election.
3. Republicans talked a lot about wanting changes in voting laws after the prolonged fight over ballots cast in the governor’s race and Cooper’s slim margin of victory. Republicans provided no details, but set the stage for a new round of bills and debates over voting requirements and whose votes count.
4. The new year won’t have much of a chance to get started before a Superior Court judge considers a lawsuit against the state over a new law transferring State Board of Education powers to the new superintendent of public instruction, Mark Johnson. More lawsuits over legislative action are likely to follow.
5. In the thick of the fight over the repeal of HB2, nary a peep was heard from the new Senate Rules chairman, Sen. Bill Rabon, the veterinarian from Southport. His predecessor, Tom Apodaca, became expert at directing debate and shutting down dissenters with acerbic remarks and parliamentary maneuvers.
In the December special sessions, debate management was left to other Republican senators and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. Will Rabon be a Rules chairman in the style of Apodaca and Democrat Tony Rand before him, or are we going to see a different kind of chairman?