Hopeful mixed bag of election results spurs compromise


Sunday, November 11, 2018

About the best metaphor for Tuesday’s midterm election results is a “mixed bag.”

On the one hand, Democrats wrestled control of the U.S. House from Republicans, creating much-needed accountability for President Trump. On the other hand, Republicans solidified their control of the U.S. Senate, defying the norms of political gravity by picking up seats in their president’s first midterm election.

Here in North Carolina, Republicans maintained control of both the state House and Senate in Tuesday’s election. However, Democrats also had a good election night, picking up enough House and Senate seats to end GOP supermajorities in both chambers and give Gov. Roy Cooper a stronger hand in operating our state’s government. Democrats also swept every statewide judicial race on the ballot, including the Supreme Court seat held by Republican Barbara Jackson. Democrats will have a 5-2 majority on the seven-member court.

Republicans, on the other hand, also had a good night in congressional races. Thanks to partisan gerrymandering designed to give them 10 of the state’s 13 seats in Congress, Republicans managed to hang onto all 10. Tuesday’s election, however, likely will be the last with that 10-3 result favoring Republicans: Federal judges have ruled the state’s congressional district maps a partisan gerrymander and ordered lawmakers to redraw them to reflect the political balance of the state’s electorate. And because of the Democratic takeover of the House, North Carolina’s political clout in the Congress is now tied up with the minority party. 

In area elections, the political realignment that's been underway this decade continued on Tuesday. Republicans won three of our region's four legislative seats, including Senate District 1 and House Districts 1 and 6. Republican Bob Steinburg's victory over Democrat Cole Phelps in Senate 1 wasn't really a surprise, given the 11-county district's demographics. Rural districts that are largely white and older now regularly vote for Republican candidates, even if Democrats make up the majority of registered voters. For the same reason, Eddy Goodwin's and Bobby Hanig's wins in House 1 and House 6, respectively, weren't surprises despite the fact both were heavily outspent by their Democratic opponents.

In local races, GOP candidates continued to win elections in counties where their party is dominant — Currituck and Camden — but also made significant inroads in counties where Democrats, because of party registration and larger populations of minorities, historically have dominated governing boards. Nowhere was this more true than in Pasquotank and Chowan counties, where two incumbent Democratic commissioners in each county lost their seats to either Republican candidates (in Pasquotank) or a Republican and an unaffiliated candidate (in Chowan).

Joe Winslow lost his bid for a third term in Pasquotank's Northern Outside district to Republican Sean Lavin, a former unaffiliated voter, and at-large Commissioner Bill Sterritt lost his bid for a third term to Republican Barry Overman, a current member of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Board of Education.

In Chowan, Jeff Smith, the board of commissioners chairman, was ousted from his seat by Republican Bob Kirby, while John Mitchener lost his bid for re-election to unaffiliated candidate Larry McLaughlin.

Showing Tuesday really did generate a mixed bag of results, Democrats in Pasquotank managed to elect Charles Jordan to the at-large commission seat to which he was appointed last year, making him only the second African American to accomplish that feat since Reconstruction.

Republicans, meanwhile, gained the sheriff offices in both Camden and Pasquotank, leaving Perquimans and Chowan as the only counties in the region with a Democratic sheriff. Incumbent Perquimans Sheriff Shelby White, who was only appointed to the job this year, eked out a narrow win over his Republican opponent, largely because of a strong campaign. Party affiliation no doubt played a role in Republican Kevin Jones' victory in Camden and GOP candidate Tommy Wooten's win in Pasquotank. However, both were also better candidates and stronger campaigners than their Democratic opponents.

So what does this mixed bag of election results translate into going forward?

While gridlock is likely, the fact Republicans will now have to compromise with Democrats in both Washington and Raleigh to accomplish anything is a good thing. We hope that the fracturing of the supermajorities in the state Legislature will stop the worst tendencies of GOP lawmakers to steamroll legislation. Locally, we're hopeful that new GOP commissioners in our region will approach their jobs the way most other elected Republicans have in Camden and Currituck — not as anti-government, anti-spend ideologues but as responsible public servants representative of people, not ideas.

But of course that's the thing about a mixed bag: You don't really know what you're getting.