RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – State Senator Phil Berger (R-Eden), perhaps the most powerful Republican in North Carolina, will keep his hands on the reins of the General Assembly for the next two years.
Berger on Monday was voted Senate president pro tempore – more generally known as “Senate leader” – by his peers, continuing in a post he has held since 2011.
Berger, who was re-elected without opposition in Senate District 26, which includes all of his home of Rockingham County and most of eastern and northern Guilford County, will preside over a supermajority earned in the election on Nov. 8.
Republicans are one seat shy of a supermajority in the state House. Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) was re-elected as speaker in the slate of officers chosen earlier this month.
“I’d like to thank my colleagues for entrusting me to lead the Senate for another term,” Berger said in a statement released after the vote. “I look forward to another two years of helping create a better North Carolina for all.”
Berger was joined in Senate leadership by Senate Majority Leader Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus), Deputy President Pro Tempore Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell), Senate Whips Tom McInnis (R-Richmond) and Jim Perry (R-Lenoir) and Caucus Liaison Sen. Carl Ford (R-Rowan).
Democrats elected Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake), Minority Whip Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake) and Secretary Julie Mayfield (D-Buncombe).
Despite the GOP’s control, the House has not agreed to the Senate’s passage of three generally popular but also politically touchy measures, two of which originated in the House: Medicaid expansion, medical marijuana and sports betting. All had strong bipartisan support in the Senate and for their original bills in the House.
Most notable is Medicaid expansion, which Berger famously flipped to support last spring after years of opposition. But the House did not take action before the short session ended in July, and despite continued discussions, lawmakers let pass a deadline that officials said would cost the state more than $1 billion.
The primary hang-up is not Medicaid per se but the attached plans for how to expand health care in rural areas, which hospital associations don’t like. Republicans representing the Triad in the House – most notably House Majority Whip Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett) and influential Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem) – have expressed optimism that a solution can be reached.
The House also failed to act on medical marijuana after the Senate easily passed a bill that would create a prescription process for doctors to use for patients suffering from maladies for which marijuana is known to be an effective treatment.
Sports gambling is dicier, although its expansion has been a windfall in new revenue for Virginia and other states who have adopted it. Critics suggest it fuels gambling addiction. The House didn’t like the bill the Senate passed and considered more-restrictive approaches.
With firm control of the General Assembly and now GOP control of both the NC Court of Appeals and the NC Supreme Court, legislators likely will turn immediate focus on redrawing state electoral maps that might be more favorable to Republican candidates.
The state Supreme Court in February required legislators to rework their maps for Congress and the General Assembly, and special masters appointed by the court actually drew lines for the U.S. House of Representatives that left the state’s 14 districts split evenly between Republicans and Democrats.
The GOP had dominated for the past decade with maps that consistently were overturned by federal and state courts because they were illegally gerrymandered. The maps used for Nov. 8 were only approved for 2022.
Supreme Court case
How that process works and whether future courts could have a say in how the General Assembly draws maps could become moot after the U.S. Supreme Court hears a lawsuit brought by Berger and Moore to clarify lawmakers’ authority. Justices agreed to consider the broader issue after rejecting their appeal of the state court’s ruling in February.
Justices will hear oral arguments Monday in Moore v. Harper, and the chief justices of all 50 state supreme courts have contributed a brief urging them to reject the concept, which they say could jeopardize fair elections. Moore said the suit is valid because “the United States Constitution explicitly gives the General Assembly authority to draw districts.”