GOP legislative winners hope to avoid gridlock

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State Rep. Bob Steinburg

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By Jon Hawley and William F. West
Staff Writers

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Northeastern North Carolina's newly elected state lawmakers thanked their supporters on Wednesday, and are hoping to avoid partisan gridlock after Democrats won enough seats to break Republicans' supermajority in the General Assembly.

Unofficial election results from Tuesday show that three-term state Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, won election to the open seat in Senate District 1. He defeated Washington County Commissioner Cole Phelps, a Democrat, for the seat.

Other competitive races in the region also broke Republicans' way. Former Ferry Division director Ed Goodwin, of Chowan, beat Ron Wesson, a Democrat and Bertie County commissioner, for House District 1. In House District 6, which includes the Outer Banks, Currituck Board of Commissioners Chairman Bobby Hanig defeated Dare County Democrat Tess Judge, who lost by 10 points despite a massive cash advantage.

In an interview Wednesday, Steinburg thanked his supporters for their hard work and for making the largest campaign of his career a success. He credited his victory to a “real commitment to expand” from his six-county House District, where he strove to be visible and accessible, to the rest of the counties in Senate District 1.

“The template had already been established,” he said.

Steinburg said the campaign worked to tap into pockets of support, such as Currituck, while trying to keep margins of loss tight in Pasquotank and even Washington, which is Phelps' home county. Steinburg also acknowledged that Hertford County was difficult; Hertford is both heavily Democratic and less familiar with him, he noted.

Steinburg also had a major fundraising advantage over Phelps, raising more than $600,000 to Phelps’ less than $300,000, according to updated campaign finance reports posted last week.

Going forward, Steinburg said he's already planning how to represent the 11-county district, which comes with widely distributed constituents and a multitude of local governments and school districts to represent. Steinburg said it's the largest state legislative district by geography, noting that campaigning across it this year put about 40,000 miles on his car.

Steinburg said he's already spoken to Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger about the “enormity” of the district, and he hopes to get additional staff. He also pledged he will serve all 11 counties equally and well, and said Washington and Hertford particularly need economic help.

Steinburg also said Phelps called him Tuesday night to congratulate him on his victory; Steinburg praised the call as “very gracious.”

In an emailed statement, Phelps said the election's outcome was disappointing, but encouraged his supporters to remain engaged in politics, including to advocate for affordable health care, more support for public education, and more access to broadband internet.

In House District 1, Goodwin said he was pleased with his campaign's efforts, and said his victory reflected sticking to his “game plan.” He tried to campaign in each of the district's six counties and tried to appeal to as many voters as possible, he said.

Goodwin also said he's already getting calls from Raleigh to help him get oriented as a new lawmaker, and said he plans to work hard for constituents.

“If I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it to the best of my ability,” he said.

Goodwin also said he had not heard directly from Wesson, but noted Wesson had posted his concession and congratulations online.

In House District 6, Hanig said his first reaction to winning was simply, “Wow.” It's been many decades since a lawmaker from Currituck was elected — and a Republican, no less, he noted.

"It's something that would not have been remotely possible without the help of a lot of people,” Hanig said. “It's a big victory for northeastern North Carolina. It's a big victory for Currituck.”

Hanig said he was honored and humbled to be in this position.

Hanig defeated Judge by 18,437 votes to 15,045 votes, or 55 to 45 percent. Judge had counted on Dare countering Currituck, but she couldn't overcome his lead there.

Hanig won Currituck with 6,664 votes to Judge's 3,097 votes, or about 68 to 32 percent.

Dare only reduced that margin some, as Judge won it by 1,111 votes: 8,773 to 7,662.

Hanig also carried Pamlico County by about 3,200 to 2,200 votes

"Currituck came out in huge numbers, and between Currituck and Pamlico County, there was just no way she could pick (the seat) up," Hanig said.

The three lawmakers also commented on a major outcome of Tuesday's election: Democrats gaining enough seats elsewhere in the state to deny Republicans veto-proof majorities. Republicans will still control the General Assembly next term, but will not be able to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's vetoes without Democratic support.

“Either we all try to work together with the governor,” or “it's going to be a very long session,” Steinburg said. If the parties do face major disagreements, he predicted they would involve budgetary matters more than policy ones. Democrats will want to spend more while Republicans will want to maintain funding reserves, he said.

Goodwin said the next two years may be “a little rocky to start.” However, he said Cooper and lawmakers had to work together to keep moving North Carolina forward, adding “doing nothing is not acceptable.”

Hanig said the GOP's lost supermajority will “make things more difficult,” and “we're just going to have to cooperate with each other to get things done.”