Never Mind 2010 - The Big Year is 2011
At the beginning of each new year, pundits such as I often delve into what might be in store for the next 12 months.
Forgive me for taking a pass for 2010. Instead, how about some thoughts on 2011, a year almost certain to be far more important for North Carolina government and politics?
Sure, the current year will feature important elections, with Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr seeking a second term and Democrats scrambling to hold on to their majorities in the state legislature. The criminal investigations into the activities of former Gov. Mike Easley will also likely come to a head in 2010.
But substantial political change looms in 2011, not 2010.
After all, fall electoral results are only a prelude to actual leadership changes that occur the following winter.
In the case of the North Carolina legislature, elections become only the starting point of the jockeying for position and power.
That's likely to be particularly true in the North Carolina Senate.
Over in the House, only the greatest of Republican tides in 2010 will sweep the Democrats from power in 2011. If Democrats do keep their majority, Orange County lawyer Joe Hackney will most likely win another term as House speaker. In the Senate, change is on the way, regardless of voter sentiment 11 months from now.
Longtime Senate boss Marc Basnight, now coping with long-term health problems, says he will seek another term. But key cogs in the Democrats' Senate machine have left or are leaving.
Without incumbency, Democrats will have a hard time keeping some of those districts.
The circumstances are ripe for a Republican takeover. If that occurs, the power struggle among GOP senators will begin immediately.
But don't look for Democrats to stay on the sidelines. Even those not king can become kingmakers.
If Democrats keep their Senate majority, the shift in power - already begun with Asheville Sen. Martin Nesbitt's selection as the chamber's new majority leader - will continue.
In 2011, legislators also will set the table for how future legislative majorities will be decided. They'll draw new legislative and congressional district lines that year to correspond with new census numbers.
Just as in 2001, partisan lawsuits may challenge new districts, meaning plenty of courthouse wrangling before new lines are actually set.
Finally, 2011 may be the year when the full gravity of the recession hits North Carolina government. So far, the state has received more than $2 billion in federal stimulus dollars to help plug the gaping budget holes last year and this year. Around $1 billion remains to help ease the pain for the next round of budgeting.
What then? Gov. Bev Perdue says she believes that the state and national economy are on their way toward recovery and that Congress may yet help states with their budget problems for a fourth year.
She'd better hope so.
Without more federal aide or tax collections that pick up considerably, budgeting in 2011 could prove uglier than any seen in recent times.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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