Blake, Boles Relish Being in Majority in Legislature
Seat No. 47 and a state license plate number to match will be a thing of the past next year for Sen. Harris Blake.
Those numbers will get smaller, while his clout increases when the 2011 session of the N.C. General Assembly convenes next January. Riding a Republican wave that swept the nation in Tuesday's elections, the GOP won control of state House and Senate for the first time in more than a century, according to unofficial statewide returns.
That is welcome news for Blake and state Rep. Jamie Boles, who both ran unopposed Tuesday. Blake won his fifth term, while Boles was re-elected to his second.
"It has taken some time for it to sink in," said Blake, a Pinehurst Republican, who has sat on the back row for his eight years in the Senate. "You start to realize the significance of what happened. It's going to be us, not them, in charge. We now have to live up to that challenge. That challenge will require absolute commitment on our part to do what is best for North Carolina."
Boles, who represents most of Moore County, said Wednesday that he feels good about the political shift that occurred Tuesday. He said voters sent a message that the economy was very much on their minds and that they are unhappy with direction taken by the Democrats and Gov. Bev Perdue.
"I was expecting this," Boles said, "but just not to this degree. It was historic. We now have to step in and lead this state in the right direction."
The GOP picked up 11 seats in the Senate, to give it a veto-proof 31-19 majority. It marks the first time since 1898 that Republicans control the Senate.
In the House, Republicans could hold a 67-52 edge, according to unofficial results, with one unaffiliated member who is expected to join the GOP caucus, according to Boles. Republicans last controlled the House 12 years ago.
Boles noted that some prominent Democrats, including Rep. Hugh Holliman, the current House majority leader, lost to Republicans.
"Those who backed Gov. Beverly Perdue's agenda were voted out of office," he said. "The voters spoke. They aren't going to stand for it."
Boles pointed out that even strong Democratic districts, such as the one represented by incumbent Doug Yongue - made up of Hoke, Scotland and Robeson counties - went Republican on Tuesday.
"That just speaks volumes that rural North Carolina has had enough of Gov. Perdue's agenda," he said.
Perdue, a Democrat with two years left on her first term, issued a brief statement on the election results Wednesday morning.
"I want to congratulate the candidates who won last night," she said. "This morning we woke up to new leaders in the legislature, but we all still face the same economic challenges that voters responded to yesterday.
"I believe the General Assembly leadership will join me in my continuing efforts to grow jobs for North Carolinians, to set government straight and to invest in the education of our future workforce. I look forward to working with them toward those goals."
Boles responded by saying, "We look forward to giving her some good guidance."
As for the leadership in both chambers next year, Sen. Phil Berger, who has been his party's minority leader in the Senate, is expected to replace Sen. Marc Basnight, a Manteo Democrat who has been president pro tem for 18 years. That is a powerful position that determines the flow of legislation in the chamber.
In the House, current GOP Minority Leader Paul "Skip" Stam and and Minority Whip Thom Tillis are expected to contend for House speaker. The Republican House caucus is set to meet Nov. 20 to select a speaker.
Boles declined to speculate on who might be tapped or whom he would support.
"One of first challenges for us is meeting as a caucus and talking about how we are going to govern," Boles said. "A speaker will emerge from that. We have folks who are well-qualified to lead."
One of the biggest challenges facing the General Assembly next year will be finding a way to bridge a projected $3 billion to $3.5 billion budget shortfall.
In addition to the budget, state lawmakers must take up redistricting when they reconvene in January. They will use the 2010 census to redraw the boundaries of political districts both in the General Assembly and for North Carolina's 13 congressional districts.
The new districts could influence elections over the next 10 years.
On the budget, Republicans are pledging to close the shortfall with significant cuts rather than tax increases.
"The money is just not going to be there to keep spending the way the state has been doing these past few years," Blake said. "We have overdone it. The federal government has done the same thing. It is now up to us to provide the leadership. We'll have to be responsible.
"The state has been obligating money as if it was always going to be there. We have increased spending too much. That has to change. We have enough money coming into our treasury to operate state government. We'll just have to spend it more wisely. Everyone will be affected. This is a 'we the people' time. We have to keep the public informed and involved in what we are doing up there to deal with this situation and not go behind closed doors to work out deals."
Boles agreed with Blake that getting spending under control is the top priority next year. He said that developing an economic environment that allows the private sector to create more jobs is also crucial.
"Our focus clearly has to be on the budget and the economy," Boles said. "I think the Republican Party is ready for that challenge. We need to get spending under control. You can't spend what you don't have. Having a majority gives you the ability to get through a fiscally conservative agenda that ordinarily would have to be watered down."
Boles and Blake did not offer specifics on what could be cut in the budget. Both said the General Assembly needs to examine every area of state government.
"We have to set our priorities and fund what is essential first," Boles said. "You can't fund everything. That is what we tried to emphasize last year."
Boles said that ultimately this will take a bipartisan effort, which he welcomes.
"It will take both parties working together," he said. "This is the people's victory. We need to remember that."
Contact David Sinclair at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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