Even before Primary Election Day, almost a third of the state’s legislators will not return to their seats in 2013. Of the 170 legislators in the 2011-12 N.C. General Assembly, 49 members – including 26 Republicans and 23 Democrats – will not return next year. And, due to redistricting, three of these are incumbents who will not return because they face another incumbent in the primaries, and three of those six will lose.
In the 2011-12 legislature, there were already 46 freshman legislators (27 percent). With 49 more legislators (29 percent) not returning in 2013, freshman and sophomore legislators will make up more than half of the 2013 General Assembly. “With this much turnover, a combined 481 years of institutional memory and policy expertise will be lost. On the other hand, there will be room for lots of new ideas,” says Ran Coble, executive director of the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.
Potential for Record-Setting Turnover
The modern records for highest legislative turnover were set in 1973 and 1975, when 65 and 70 new legislators, respectively, came to the General Assembly. “Depending on the outcomes of the May 8th primary and November 6th general election, North Carolina’s legislative turnover in 2013 could approach or surpass the record turnover of the mid-1970s,” says Coble.
In 1973, the Republican Party became a force in North Carolina with the victories of Republican
U.S. Senator Jesse Helms and Republican Governor Jim Holshouser. By 1975, the record-setting turnover swung the opposite direction as many Democrats were elected to the N.C. General Assembly as part of the nationwide backlash against the Watergate scandal involving President Richard Nixon and Republican Party campaign officials.
The Reasons for Legislators’ Departures
The Center says there are four reasons for this year’s legislative turnover – retirements, runs for higher office, accepting other jobs, and, most of all, redistricting. “Departing legislators have different reasons for leaving, but all returning legislators will have a lot of new faces to meet in the 2013 session,” says Coble.
Examples of retiring legislators are nine-term Senator Charlie Dannelly (D-Mecklenburg), 87, who is retiring to care for his ailing wife, and nine-term Representative Larry Womble (D-Forsyth), 70, who is retiring after a serious auto accident. Another departure resulted from the death of Sen. James Forrester (R-Gaston) last October. In addition, three of the five Democratic Representatives who joined Republicans to override Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue’s veto of the Republicans’ budget are retiring – Dewey Hill (D-Columbus), Bill Owens (D-Pasquotank), and Timothy Spear (D-Washington).
Several legislators are leaving the General Assembly to run for higher office. These include Rep. Bill Faison (D-Orange), who is running for Governor; Sen. Eric Mansfield (D-Cumberland), Rep. Dale Folwell (R-Forsyth), and Rep. Grey Mills (R-Iredell), who are running for Lieutenant Governor; and Sen. David Rouzer (R-Johnston), Rep. Ric Killian (R-Mecklenburg), Rep. Fred Steen (R-Rowan), and Rep. Patsy Keever (D-Buncumbe), who all are running for Congressional seats. Representatives Glen Bradley (R-Franklin), Bill Cook (R-Beaufort), Earline Parmon (D-Forsyth), and Norman Sanderson (R-Pamlico) are all leaving the N.C. House to run for the state Senate.
New job opportunities also pulled members away from the legislature. Sen. Debbie Clary (R-Cleveland) and Rep. Jeff Barnhardt (R-Cabarrus) left the legislature for careers in lobbying and Rep. David Guice
(R-Transylvania) accepted a position as Director of the Division of Community Corrections in the Department of Public Safety.
Redistricting of the state’s 170 legislative districts – 50 Senate and 120 House Districts – had the biggest impact on legislative turnover. The legislative maps drawn by Republicans put at least 10 Senators into districts with other incumbents, usually with a Republican advantage. The maps put 28 House incumbents into districts with other incumbents. Putting two incumbents in one district in called “double bunking.” Some legislators, such as Rep. Grier Martin (D-Wake), were double bunked with another veteran legislator and chose not to run. Other legislators like Democratic Representatives Jim Crawford (D-Granville) and Winkie Wilkins (D-Person) are competing against each other in the May 8th primary, and one of the two will lose his seat in the state House.
The new legislative maps shift political clout to urban areas and to Republicans. John Rustin, director of the N.C. Free Enterprise Foundation, says that the new Senate redistricting maps create:
16 strong Democratic districts,
2 that lean Democratic,
13 strong Republican districts,
14 that lean Republican, and
5 swing districts.
With 50 members in the N.C. Senate, 26 seats are needed for a majority. In the House, the new redistricting maps create:
34 strong Democratic districts,
10 that lean Democratic,
48 strong Republican districts,
18 that lean Republican, and
10 swing districts.
With 120 legislators in the N.C. House, 61 seats are needed for a majority.
The redistricting maps have been challenged in a lawsuit, and a three-judge panel of Superior Court judges will hear motions and have attorneys file briefs in mid-August 2012. A trial and decision are not expected before September.
Some Legislative Seats Already Won for Their Political Party
In legislative districts across the state, 34 incumbent legislators are running unopposed in both the primary and general elections. Additionally, 31 other legislators have opposition only in their party’s primary and not in the general election. These seats will be a victory for their party, regardless of the candidate elected. Finally, there are 3 legislators whose only opposition in the fall comes from Libertarian Party candidates. Libertarian Party candidates have never won a legislative race in North Carolina. Combining unopposed races, races with opposition only in the same party’s primary, and races only with Libertarian Party opposition, 19 seats are likely already determined in the Senate – 12 will be Republicans and 7 will be Democrats. More than a third of the makeup of the N.C. House is set as 26 will be Republicans and 23 will be Democrats.
Some of the Most Effective Legislators Won’t Be Back
Some of the most effective legislators also won’t be back in 2013. The Center released new rankings of all legislators’ effectiveness on April 10th, based on the surveys of all legislators, lobbyists, and capital news media. Sen. Richard Stevens (R-Wake), ranked the 3rd most effective in the Senate, is retiring after serving five terms. Former Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Hackney (D-Orange), ranked as the 13th most effective Representative, has served 16 terms in the House. Hackney is retiring after being double-bunked in redistricting with Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange). Rep. Dale Folwell (R-Forsyth), who ranked 8th in effectiveness, is leaving the House to run for Lieutenant Governor. Rep. Jim Crawford (D-Granville), ranked 7th most effective, faces Rep. Winkie Wilkins (D-Person) in a primary election, and only one of the two can return in 2013.