North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation
The General Election of 2012 is eleven months away, the Primary Election is scheduled to take place in just about six months, and the filing period for candidates running in 2012 is set to open in roughly two months, but already resignations and retirements among members of the North Carolina General Assembly are starting to pile up. Within the past week, three members of the N.C. House have announced plans to retire or seek another office, and as of today, 13 incumbent House members do not intend to seek reelection to the chamber in 2012. In the Senate, one member passed away last month, another is resigning at the end of the year, one is seeking higher office and another has chosen to retire – all are members of the majority party (Republican).
Although the N.C. General Assembly is known as an elected body steeped in tradition, after the 2010 election, an entire third of the N.C. Senate and a quarter of the N.C. House were freshmen lawmakers. At the beginning of 2013, it is not unreasonable to expect that a majority of members of both chambers will be serving in just their first or second terms.
In order to help you keep track of this growing list of legislative resignations and retirements, the NC FreeEnterprise Foundation has produced the 2012 Turnover Tracker that will help you to identify members of the General Assembly who have resigned, who plan to retire or who have left the chamber for another reason.
We will keep this document updated and accessible on the Political News page of our website along with our 2012 Election Tracker, which is a much more comprehensive list of incumbents, candidates and would-be candidates.
Earlier this year, Reps. Johnathan Rhyne (R-Lincoln) and Jeff Barnhart (R-Cabarrus) resigned from the N.C. House and have been replaced by appointed members, Reps. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) and Larry Pittman (R-Cabarrus), respectively. Six other members have already announced plans to retire after 2012, and at least seven more may leave the House to seek higher office.
In the N.C. Senate, Sen. Jim Forrester (R-Gaston) passed away last month, and Sen. Debbie Clary (R-Cleveland) is stepping down at the end of this year. Their successors have been or are in the process of being selected. Futhermore, Sen. David Rouzer (R-Johnston) is running for the U.S. Congress, and Sen. Harris Blake (R-Moore) plans to retire.
While it’s still early yet to fully understand the political and electoral implications of these departures, all we have to do is look back to last year’s elections to see how large of an impact they can have. The 2010 election cycle featured a significant number of retirements, resulting in competitive open-seat races, as well as non-elected members who were appointed to fill the unexpired terms of those who had left the legislature, mostly Democrats. A tough political environment in 2010 for Democrats enabled Republicans to turn these vulnerable open seats and districts represented by “appointed incumbents” into important pick-ups. This was most notable in the State Senate, where long-standing Democratic incumbents like Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand (D-Cumberland), Sen. David Hoyle (D-Gaston), Sen. R.C. Soles (D-Columbus), Sen. Charlie Albertson (D-Duplin), Sen. David Weinstein (D-Robeson), and Sen. Julia Boseman (D-New Hanover) opted to resign or retire. All of these seats, with one exception, were won by Republicans.
In the N.C. House, two Democratic appointed incumbents who had a year or less in office, Reps. John May (D-Franklin) and Chris Heagarty (D-Wake), fell to GOP challengers, and the retirement of Reps. Russell Tucker (D-Duplin) and Bob England (D-Rutherford) created two open seats that turned over to Republicans.
So far the retirements and resignations this election cycle are occurring in districts that are largely favorable to the incumbent member’s party, while some retirements seem to be driven by incumbent vs. incumbent primaries created by the recently redrawn state legislative district maps. A couple of longstanding Democratic incumbents from Eastern North Carolina, Reps. Bill Owens (D-Pasquotank) and Tim Spear (D-Washington), have said they will not run again. Both are moderate-to conservative Democrats and are leaving newly altered districts that are winnable by the GOP. In fact, Rep. Spear was double-bunked with freshman Rep. Bill Cook (R-Beaufort), which would have been an interesting contest to watch. It still may be, but Rep. Cook is certainly breathing a little easier after Rep. Spear’s recent announcement.
Of course, we won’t know definitively what the turnover picture will look like until the two-week filing period opens in mid-February, assuming the filing deadline and Primary Election date are not moved due to pending legal challenges to the redistricting maps passed by the General Assembly in July. We do know, however, that more changes are certain to come, so be sure to stay tuned!
This story was posted with permission of the North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation