Predictions for state politics in 2019

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No self-respecting columnist passes up the obligatory prediction column the first week of the year. So here goes mine.

The first test will set the tone for 2019. It’s the lingering 9th Congressional District election. This story reminds me of the old black and white westerns, where the townsfolk vow to “give the prisoner a fair trial, then take him out back and hang him.” You already know the outcome.

Those who don’t believe there will be a new election could fit in a phone booth. We just need to settle the new State Board of Elections, hear the evidence and get on with it. New Republican candidacies will surface for the primary, even though Mark Harris won last time. Dan McCready will be the Democrats’ nominee and will likely ultimately win the seat.

The legislature comes back to Raleigh on Jan. 9. Will we see the same partisan agenda of recent years, or is it too much to dream of the lion lying down with the lamb? Republicans no longer have veto-proof majorities in either the Senate or House, so they will be forced to work with Gov. Roy Cooper. Maybe it’s a personality thing or perhaps just historic tensions between the legislative and executive branches, but Cooper and the Republicans don’t get along well.

One sure action item is the redrawing of congressional and legislative districts to conform to court orders. Since moving the 2020 primary election date to March, new districts must be passed and court-tested, and candidates must have ample time to file to run. If we are ever going to see an impartial redistricting commission established, 2019 is the year. But deciding what is “impartial” will likely end up in court.

2019 will see the emergence of candidates for the 2020 elections. North Carolina will see many presidential hopefuls, owning to our early primaries and because we are considered a swing state. We will watch to see if Lt. Governor Dan Forest gets a serious challenger for the Republican nomination for governor. Cooper will seek re-election and, buoyed by wins in 2018, Democrats will again field a competitive slate of candidates for legislative and congressional seats.

House Speaker Tim Moore wants to put a $2 billion public school bond referendum to voters, but others will insist that transportation, clean water and other infrastructure be wrapped in the package. The effort will likely fail to reach a public vote.

Passage of any referendum will depend on the state’s economy; the picture for 2019 is cloudy. Tariffs, trade agreements and the volatile markets will affect North Carolina. We are pretty far along the traditional 10-year economic cycle, prompting some to predict a slowing down in growth, even a downturn in coming months.

Cooper will push for Medicaid expansion and some Republican legislators support the effort, but uncertainty over Obamacare and the economy will prevent it from passing. Legislators will place a strong emphasis on restoring our rainy-day surplus funds depleted from storm recovery efforts.

Silent Sam has become a symbol, like HB2. Sadly, all the players in this drama have backed themselves into corners and finding a middle ground is difficult. Count on whatever solution is reached to become a 2020 election issue.

Education will again be contentious. Cooper will be urging another large pay increase for teachers and more education funding. The tension between the superintendent of public instruction and a newly re-formed State Board of Education will continue. The UNC Board of Governors will continue attempts to intrude into management and will remove the “interim” from Bill Roper’s title as UNC president.

Good prognosticators always add a couple of sure-fire predictions to improve their win-loss records, so here are mine. North Carolina drivers won’t get any better. Slower drivers will continue to refuse to move right so faster ones can pass, too many will fail to observe the traditional 9 mph over the posted speed limit and race dangerously back and forth between lanes, and an increasing number will either refuse to use or won’t find their turn signal indicators.

Let’s hope good climes and good times await us in 2019. Happy New Year.

Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina state treasurer and is creator/host of “N.C. Spin,” a weekly statewide television discussion that airs on the UNC-TV main channel Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 12:30 p.m. and on the UNC North Carolina Channel Fridays at 10 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m. and Sundays at 10 a.m. Contact him at www.ncspin.com.