Year When State GOP Consolidated Its Gains
In many respects, North Carolina politics in 2012 was simply a continuation of the change that had begun in 2010. Pat McCrory, the longtime Republican mayor of Charlotte, easily won the race to become the state's next governor, ensuring that the GOP would control both the legislature and governor's mansion, together, for the first time since the 19th century.
In that same election, Republicans would expand their majorities in the state House and Senate that they had won two years earlier, turning both new legislative district maps and a fundraising edge to their advantage.
Early in the year, GOP lawmakers used their earlier, smaller majorities to push yet more measures through the legislature intended to redefine public policy in the state, among them a new school reform plan and the legalization of controversial hydraulic fracturing for nature gas.
Often, Republican legislative leaders were able to pursue those measure despite the objections of outgoing Gov. Beverly Perdue.
For a second straight year, legislators overrode her veto of the $20 billion state budget bill.
On a late night in early July, they also were able to muster the votes to override her vetoes of a capital punishment-related bill and fracking legislation.
An Eventful Campaign
The year, though, began with Perdue's announcement that she would not seek a second term, a move that a few had predicted but stunned many political observers.
The Democratic governor had suffered from sagging poll numbers through much of her tenure. By January, she had recognized that turning around the numbers was going to be even more difficult in light of a campaign fundraising base that was alternately clinging to its money or switching sides altogether.
Meanwhile, McCrory, who had narrowly lost to Perdue four years earlier, had not been twiddling his thumbs. He had been preparing for a second bid for the office for a while. With Perdue's decision not to run, three prominent Democrats decided to jump into the race for a chance that would almost certainly involve facing McCrory in the fall.
Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, a Rutherfordton lawyer who enjoyed a long legislative career, beat former Congressman Bob Etheridge, state Rep. and Orange County lawyer Bill Faison, and three lesser-known Democrats in the primary.
Dalton, though, immediately faced a huge challenge.
Not long after the primary, McCrory's campaign had more than $4 million on hand. Dalton's had less than $200,000.
The divide wouldn't be as bad by the fall, but McCrory made few missteps and used a smart campaign portraying him as a problem-solver from a modern, Southern city to beat Dalton by 11 percentage points.
Election Night also saw Republicans expand their majorities in the state House and Senate, making big gains in the House. Their new 77-43 House advantage gives the GOP the veto-proof majority that it lacked the previous two years, which had allowed Perdue to sustain eight of 19 vetoes.
Perhaps the Democrats' losses shouldn't have been surprising.
In a year in which they were supposed to bask in the glory of hosting the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, Democratic activists instead faced turmoil within the party organization.
The party's executive director resigned after revelations that another staff member had received a payment to settle sexual harassment allegations. State party chair David Parker stayed on despite calls by some party workers for his resignation, a move that clearly split party regulars. Democrats, though, did manage to hang on to six statewide executive branch posts.
In the legislature, Senate leader Phil Berger was able to get passed portions of his school reform plan. The provisions, wrapped into the state budget bill, will emphasize reading in the early grades, stop social promotion for third graders who do not pass reading tests, create a new A-F grading system for parents to judge schools, and establish a merit pay system for public school teachers.
For a second time, legislators rolled back some local municipal annexations after courts had tried to stop them.
And they approved a hydraulic fracturing framework that could eventually allow the drilling for natural gas in this state, doing so over the objections of environmentalists who say that it could contaminate water supplies and create public health problems.
The legislation set up a new commission to oversee the regulation and permitting process, which had begun meeting by fall.
In May, state voters, by a wide margin, approved an amendment to ban gay marriage in North Carolina. The vote came after bitter public campaigning by those on both sides of the question.
Plenty of Scandals
The year wasn't without political scandal.
One former campaign aide to Perdue, Juleigh Sitton, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge as part of a plea agreement related to an arrangement that had her working on the Perdue campaign while being paid by someone else.
A Perdue campaign supporter, Buzzy Stubbs, still faced legal charges as a part of the scandal.
In the legislature, Charles Thomas, a top aide to House Speaker Thom Tillis, resigned after revelations of an affair with a lobbyist. A co-chair of the powerful House Rules Committee, Rep. Stephen LaRoque of Kinston, resigned following federal felony charges that he stole government money moving through non-profit organizations that had been intended for low-interest business loans.
An athletics scandal that led to sanctions against the football team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill turned into an academic scandal as published reports showed athletes benefiting from course offerings that involved little or no academic work.
Former presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. John Edwards, after a couple of years of unsavory revelations about his personal life, beat federal campaign finance charges connected to payments to his one-time mistress when jurors failed to reach a verdict in his trial.
The legal reverberations continued over questionable practices at the SBI crime lab, with more defendants winning new trials because of tainted evidence.
Perdue left office after putting together a long-term land deal allowing Raleigh to lease the prized property holding the old Dorothea Dix psychiatric hospital and turn it into a park. The governor brushed aside some Republican criticism that the deal was rushed so that she could secure a political legacy.
The year also ended with Democrats questioning whether Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby, who won a tough re-election bid against Court of Appeals Judge Sam Ervin IV, could be impartial in an ongoing legal challenge of legislative districts. Those questions were based on the support of Super PAC that pushed his candidacy while fully aware of the pending case and that party balance on the court depended on his election.
A revered elder statesmen, longtime UNC system president Bill Friday, died during the year. Friday headed the university system for 30 years, overseeing consolidation of the system and playing a role in the creation of the Research Triangle Park.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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