RALEIGH — Re-elected Republican leaders of the North Carolina legislature emphasized unity and civility Wednesday while ramping up for a two-year session likely to bring more conflict and occasional consensus with the new Democratic governor.
The House and Senate convened organizational meetings that ended in less than two hours. All 170 legislators elected in November were sworn in and seated on an opening day marked by pageantry, music, family and friends.
The GOP-controlled chambers, without announced opposition, elected Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, to a second term as House speaker and Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, to a fourth term as Senate leader. After electing other officers and top administrators, the General Assembly adjourned until Jan. 25.
Two Republicans who represent Robeson County took an oath to begin their first term, Sen Danny Britt of Lumberton, who represents District 13, and Rep. Brendon Jones of Tabor City, who represents Districr 46. Britt could not be reached for this story.
The new edition of the General Assembly arrived at the Legislative Building less than two weeks after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper took office. Cooper, the longtime attorney general, narrowly defeated Republican Gov. Pat McCrory by running a campaign targeting the rightward slant of state government created by the GOP.
In separate acceptance speeches, Berger and Moore emphasized Republican actions since taking control of the legislature in 2011 that have lowered tax rates, increased teacher pay and raised the state’s reserves. They talked of working this year for tax cuts, job creation and public education with an eye for the common good and with people of competing political parties.
“Let us remember all that we can accomplish when we work together,” Berger said.
Added Moore: “North Carolina has always existed with a little rivalry and yes, even some division — but, in the end, there’s always much more that unites us.”
Partisan rancor has grown in recent weeks. In a special session, the previous edition of the legislature passed laws last month that reduced or checked gubernatorial powers shortly before Cooper took his oath. Cooper has already sued over the laws. A three-judge panel has given him a preliminary victory on one matter.
An effort by Cooper and legislative leaders to repeal House Bill 2, a law limiting LGBT rights and telling transgender people which public bathrooms they can use, fell apart amid partisan finger-pointing. Cooper also is moving ahead with his bid to expand Medicaid although a 2013 state law expressly prevents him from seeking it without direction of the legislature. GOP leaders oppose expansion.
Berger and Moore didn’t mention Cooper in their speeches. Berger pointed out later that Democrat Beverly Perdue was governor when he was first elected Senate leader six years ago.
“There’s always a healthy competition for influence among the branches,” Moore said, adding that Cooper is “an honorable man, but we certainly have differences of opinion, just like we do on this House floor.”
With Republicans holding 74 of the 120 House seats and 35 of the 50 Senate seats, there’s little Cooper can do if Republicans unify against him. A U.S. Supreme Court order Tuesday temporarily blocking the redrawing of Senate and House maps and a special election this fall under the altered maps mean those GOP advantages are more likely to remain in place through 2018.
On HB2, Moore told reporters that conversations were continuing about looking for a way to end the standoff over the law. Companies have declined to expand, entertainers canceled concerts and the NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference pulled their championships from the state in protest of the law.
“I think you’ll see some trying to find compromise of that issue,” Moore said, but “you won’t see the General Assembly betray its principles.”
One of 18 new House members, Rep. Mary Belk, D-Mecklenburg, said voters elected her to work with her colleagues and get things done.
“In this political atmosphere, it’s going to be just a little bit tougher, but there are a lot more things that people agree with than they disagree,” said Belk, who defeated a Republican incumbent by highlighting in part his support of HB2.