An Avalanche Of Turnover In Raleigh
Every 10 years, it happens. State legislators, using new census data, draw new legislative district lines. Some incumbents are drawn into unfavorable districts. Some are "double-bunked," put into districts with fellow incumbents.
The result is plenty of turnover at the General Assembly.
"Plenty" may not describe the change that is about to happen in 2013, especially when considering how much turnover the legislature already experienced in 2011 as Republicans flipped Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.
With election filing nearly complete, the number of legislators elected in 2010 who have already quit, announced that they will not seek another term or have died in office is approaching 40. In the House and Senate combined, there are 170 seats.
The turnover is certain to be greater than 40 because of that double-bunking. In a few instances, incumbent legislators have chosen to run against each other rather than step aside.
Legislators of both parties also face primary opponents, some of them with formidable political backgrounds.
The turnover is even more remarkable going back to 2010. With 31 legislators first elected in that year seeking a second term, better than half of the 2013 General Assembly could be made up of legislators in only their first or second terms.
This year's exodus isn't solely the result of redistricting. It's also being prompted by the Republican success in 2010.
Democrats used to wielding power haven't been so accepting of being relegated to the back benches. Some who remained in favorable districts still decided that the time had come to get out.
Looking at the numbers another way, Gary Robertson of The Associated Press recently reported that of the 98 Democrats who made up the majority parties in the House and Senate in 2009, 56 are guaranteed not to be back in 2013.
Some would argue that all this legislative turnover is good, that the result is de facto term limits, that new blood brings new ideas.
New ideas can be good. And old legislators can become insulated. But in the real world of the North Carolina legislature, most freshman and sophomore legislators can't even find their way around the building.
They haven't built up an institutional memory that allows them to avoid repeating mistakes of the past. They become easy prey for lobbyists or outside groups pushing "model" bills that aren't particularly well-tuned for this state's unique characteristics. They don't have a good handle on when to listen to the advice of legislative staffers.
In short, the newcomers lack context.
What's also true about legislating is that some of it is hard work. The majority party in each chamber needs some workhorses to be effective, and very few newcomers have the necessary understanding and background to fill that role.
A torrent of turnover at the legislature might make for some novel ideas or interesting debate.
It might not make the legislative sausage-making any easier or any prettier.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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