WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - North Carolina's political landscape changed in 2011, when Republicans took over control of the House & Senate in Raleigh for the first time in 140 years. The GOP will keep the majority in both chambers in the 2012 sessions, heading into what is expected to be an extremely contentious campaign season leading up to the General Election in November.
Two local legislators have already said they do not plan to run for re-election to their current seats in the NC House of Representatives. Between them, Rep. Dewey Hill (D-Columbus) and Rep. Carolyn Justice (R-Pender) have more than 30 years of service in the General Assembly. Both Rep. Hill and Rep. Justice believe the upcoming session will go more smoothly than 2011.
"If we (Republicans) walked in thinking there wasn't going to be problems, we were crazy," Rep. Justice said. "I think Republicans needed a year to learn the landscape, how to govern and how to lead if you've never been in that position. I think we're over that learning curve now, and I think next year will be smoother."
Just like Republicans needed to learn how to be the majority party, Rep. Hill says being the minority party after decades in charge was tough on many Democrats. He says experienced Republicans in the House were easier to work with on issues than many members of the GOP's freshman class.
"One of the first things I heard was one of the freshmen stand up and say 'I disagree with all of you people on the other side, and people from my district elected me to come up here and straighten you folks out!'" Rep. Hill added.
The 2011 session featured Governor Bev Perdue using her veto stamp on ten bills passed by the General Assembly. Lawmakers voted to override six of her vetoes, including the historic budget override on June 15th. Rep. Hill and a handful of Democrats crossed over to join Republicans on the budget vote, and on the override. At the time, Rep. Hill took a lot of criticism from members of his own party, but still believes it was the right thing to do.
"As a legislator, you go to Raleigh to work to help the people and the economy back home," Rep. Hill said. "If you see something you think your party is wrong on, you leave your party and do what you think is right for the community, the state, the nation and your people."
Perdue's decision not to run for re-election will add even more attention to the primary election season. Many experts are already calling North Carolina a swing state in the presidential race. Add the fact that the state is hosting the Democratic National Convention in September, and that means a lot of eyes will be watching what happens here politically.
"It's going to be a battle in every race for every seat, from county commissioner to the president," Rep. Justice said. "I hope each of us remains focused on what is best for our folks, and not what is best for ourselves."
The filing period for candidates runs from February 13 through the 29.
The General Assembly reconvenes on February 16, and again in April. Primary election day is May 8, with the General Election scheduled for November 6.