NC Speaker Black Ekes Out Re-Election

 
 There are Teflon-coated politicians, and then there is North Carolina House Speaker Jim Black . Despite an ongoing federal investigation into Black's political activities and the conviction of several of his associates, the embattled Democrat was re-elected to an 11th term by a margin of just 30 votes.
  
The State Board of Elections certified Black the winner on Tuesday (Nov. 28), discounting ballots from more than 400 people who cast ballots in the race, but should have voted in a different state House contest.
  
Black, an optometrist, has served four full terms as speaker, a tie for the longest tenure in that position — former House Speaker Liston Ramsey also served eight years from 1981 to 1989, said Black's spokeswoman Julie Robinson.
  
But with the investigation hanging over him, Black's leadership role is in limbo.
  
Republicans — still miffed that Black made a power-sharing deal that robbed the GOP of its majority after the 2002 elections — are taking some satisfaction that the longtime power broker may pay a political price for his legal battles.
  
A powerful incumbent like Black should have won by a much wider margin, and a very close election will weaken his standing in the House, said Linda Daves, acting chairwoman of the North Carolina Republican Party . "(Black) has been dethroned. ... He no longer has the confidence of the people," she said.
  
Democrats stand by his legislative record. Black has been instrumental in passing Democratic initiatives in the statehouse, said Schorr Johnson, spokesman for the North Carolina Democratic Party .
  
"From our perspective, Jim Black's fate was in the hands of the people of the 100th District ... and he won after a year of very bad press," Johnson said, adding that the critical outcome was that Democrats held on to their majority, regardless of who ultimately serves as speaker.
  
As in most other states, the North Carolina speaker's main role is to make committee assignments and to help set the schedule for floor debate in cooperation with the House Rules Committee chairman. Those responsibilities give the speaker enormous power over which bills will be shepherded through the process or killed in committee.
  
While powerful committee chairmanships are usually awarded only to loyal party colleagues, Black has strived to build consensus by giving co-chairmanship positions to some Republicans, Robinson said.
  
But Republicans have bitter memories of a different kind of bipartisan effort led by Black.
  
In the November 2002 elections, the GOP gained a 61-59 majority in the North Carolina state House and chose a Republican lawmaker to dislodge Black from his position as speaker. But before the 2003 legislative session began, a conservative Republican House member, Rep. Michael Decker, defected to the Democratic Party, leaving the chamber in a tie and the leadership in doubt.
  
Behind the scenes, Black negotiated a co-speakership with state Rep. Richard Morgan (R), who not only displaced the GOP's previous choice for floor leader, but also stripped some of his Republican colleagues of staff or relegated them to second-class roles in the chamber.
  
State Republicans took their revenge on Morgan this year, supporting a primary challenger who ousted him in the primary election.
  
"He sold out the Republican Party ... Whatever Mr. Morgan got, he fully deserved," said John Aneralla, the Mecklenburg County Republican chairman.
  
Morgan also was subpoenaed this month to provide information in a federal investigation swirling around Black and several of his political allies and staff. That investigation is focused on possible ties between campaign contributions from tobacco and video gambling companies and legislation affecting those groups.
  
As part of that investigation, Decker, the party-switcher who helped Black maintain his leader's post, recently pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge and admitted that he took $50,000 and a job for his son in exchange for leaving the Republican Party.
  
But Black survived Election Day with an initial margin of just seven votes out of more than 10,500 ballots cast, as a Democratic wave washed over the nation's statehouses on Nov. 7.
  
After adding in provisional ballots and a recount, Black's lead was 30 votes. At the same time, election officials discovered that 446 voters in one precinct should have cast ballots for a different state House race. Since most of the improper votes went to Hal Jordan, the Republican challenger, the Board of Elections ruled Black the winner.

Nationally, Democrats gained new majorities in legislative chambers in nine states on Election Day and netted more than 300 seats. They will control both legislative chambers in at least 23 states — more than they have held since 1994. Before the election Democrats had majorities in both chambers in 19 states.

Republicans will control both chambers in 15 state legislatures, down from 20 before the election. Eleven statehouses will be split between the parties, including a dead-even tie in the Oklahoma Senate. Nebraska has the nation's only unicameral, nonpartisan legislature.

In North Carolina, Black's victory only widens the Democratic majority. The party gained five seats in the North Carolina House, giving them a 68-52 majority in a chamber that the GOP had hoped to recapture this year. Democrats also gained two seats to widen their majority to 31-19 in the North Carolina Senate.
  
Black has not been charged or found guilty of any crime, and his victory shows that voters appreciate the political influence and tax dollars he has gained for the western part of the state, said Michael Evans, the Mecklenburg County Democratic chairman. Traditionally, lawmakers from eastern areas controlled the Legislature, Evans said.
  
But Black has not emerged unscathed from the inquiries. Several of his colleagues may be vying for the speaker's position when House Democrats caucus to elect leaders before the start of their session in 2007.
  
State Rep. James W. Crawford (D) , starting his 12th term in January, said he thought there would be a challenge for the speaker's seat but would not confirm reports that he may throw his hat in the ring.
  
House Majority Leader Joe Hackney (D) also declined to comment on whether he would run for speaker. "It's been a difficult year for all of us, especially the speaker," Hackney said.
  
Robinson, Black's spokeswoman, said the speaker has not decided whether he would even run for speaker again. "I think the members here know what a good job he has done and how hard he has worked for the caucus," she said.
  
Daves, the state GOP chairwoman, said she would be "totally amazed" if Black ran for speaker again. "If he did, that he would be in a total state of denial," she said.
 
X

Related Stories

    • Stateline Story
    December 18, 2013
    Tax Cuts, Tax Reform to Resurface in 2014 Statehouses image description

    To simplify tax systems and spur economic growth, some state officials will propose reforms or outright cuts next year. more

    • Stateline Story
    September 2, 2008
    image description

    Sept. 2, 2008, 1:30 p.m. EDTST. PAUL, Minn. - Hurricane Gustav forced some of the biggest stars in the Republican Party to stay at home to help their consitutents battle the storm that many feared would rival Hurricane Katrina of just three years ago.   But four of the five affected southern Republican governors addressed the opening session of the 2008 Republican National Convention Monday (Sept. 1) via taped messages. "I'm sure you can understand why Gov. Jindal couldn't participate," first lady Laura Bush said as she introduced the taped messages, referring to Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal as his state was being pounded by Gustav's strong winds and rain.   Jindal had been rumored to be, among others, on Republican John McCain's shortlist of possible vice presidential picks before the senator chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.   President Bush had been scheduled to address the delegates Monday but instead went to Texas to monitor the storm. The administration had been widely criticized for its handling of Hurricane Katrina. Some Republicans, notably Texas Gov. Rick Perry, stressed that the GOP was ready. "You're seeing Republican governors ... doing a fabulous job of taking care of the citizens. That's what we do," he said via videotape.Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Hurricane Gustav   The first lady also noted the governors of the affected states "happen to be Republicans," which drew a thunderous applause from the delegates at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.   Florida Charlie Crist, another Republican governor who also was seen as a possible VP candidate, took a less partisan approach in his remarks, remembering his experience during last month's Tropical Storm Fay: "As I traveled our state in the days following Fay's landfall, I was reminded again of the resilience and strength of our people. The kindness they extend to one another. Neighbor helping neighbor. Asking not what party you are, but instead how you can help."   Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour also gave videotaped messages. Governor Jindal said Monday that seven states are helping Louisiana to shelter more than 29,000 citizens at 107 shelters. Texas has offered to shelter several thousand patients, Oklahoma has agreed to accept 4,000 general evacuees, and 150 medical patients from southwest Louisiana hospitals are expected to arrive at the Oklahoma Air National Guard Base at Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City today.   The state Republican chairmen from Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas formed a working group "to regularly brief their delegates and convention planners, provide access to timely information and assistance, and give input on appropriate steps that can be taken from Minnesota."   The McCain 2008 campaign also agreed to charter a DC-9 to transport delegates who wished to return to home to their states.AFTER THE JUMP: More video footage of the governors on Hurricane Gustav.   - Pamela M. Prah Comments
    more

    • Stateline Story
    March 12, 2008
    image description

    Governors' primary contests in North Carolina and Indiana in May could get an unexpected influx of voters if the still undecided Democratic presidential race lumbers on. Meanwhile, Republicans worry their voters may stay home since their presidential primary race is wrapped up.
    more

    • Stateline Story
    November 29, 2006
    image description

    (Updated 1:05 p.m. EST, Nov. 29, 2006)Three hotly-contested statehouse races were decided on Tuesday (Nov. 28), giving Democrats control of the Pennsylvania state House race for the first time in 12 years, and moving the Montana House from a dead-even tie to a slim GOP majority. In North Carolina, embattled House Speaker Jim Black (D) also was certified as the winner in his bid for an 11th term. But recounts are still pending in four Indiana races where the outcome could shift the partisan control of that state House.
    more

    • Stateline Story
    August 17, 2006
    image description

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Democrats are likely to make gains in state legislative races this year, but it's a toss-up whether the seats they win will be enough to overtake control of a handful of narrowly divided statehouses, a panel of election experts said at the  National Conference of State Legislatures annual conference here.
    more

PCS.PRODUCTION.1.20140221.1210 (PEWSUWVMWAPP02)