Incumbent Democrats to return to Raleigh

In local races for the N.C. General Assembly, both major parties held their ground. Reps. Susan Fisher and Bruce Goforth and Sen. Martin Nesbitt, all Democrats, kept their seats. Retiring Rep. Wilma Sherrill was replaced by fellow Republican Charles Thomas, who edged out Democrat Doug Jones by about 400 votes.

Statewide, however, Democrats showed slight gains in both the House and Senate. “It may not make that much of a difference,” said Fisher, “but it may improve our ability to get our agenda through.” That agenda, she said, includes sending more state lottery dollars to Western North Carolina, addressing cutbacks stemming from statewide mental-health reform, and increasing Buncombe County’s child-care subsidy.

Some activists say a stronger Democratic presence in the General Assembly could have a greater impact. In an e-mail to Xpress, Executive Director David Mills of the Common Sense Foundation, a Raleigh-based group pushing a progressive public policy agenda, voiced the hope that the election results could advance the prospects for campaign-finance reform and a statewide moratorium on capital punishment, while deterring a conservative push for a constitutional amendment restricting gay marriage.

Meanwhile, newcomer Thomas’ victory keeps the 116th District seat in Republican hands. “The endorsement by Wilma Sherrill made a big difference,” said Thomas, adding that every piece of his campaign had to work for him to pull out a victory. “When the margin is like that, you can’t single out any one thing,” he observed.

On Nov. 8, Jones’ office issued a statement asking the public and news outlets for patience while an estimated 732 provisional ballots (cast when the voter’s eligibility is in question and counted only if that eligibility is confirmed) are tallied. But even the candidate himself was skeptical that the results would change the election’s outcome.

With most counts final, WNC’s representatives turned their attention to Mecklenburg County, where embattled House Speaker Jim Black was clinging to a minuscule seven-vote lead over Republican challenger Hal Jordan in the115th District race. At press time, a full count of the provisional ballots in that contest was not expected to be completed until Nov. 17. The result could turn the election either way, and a recount seems likely in any case.

If Black loses his seat, representatives will choose a new leader. But even a win may not seal Black’s re-election to the speaker’s seat, Fisher told Xpress.

“As far as I’m concerned, he may not have the mandate to lead the Democrats that he had in the past,” she said about the neck-and-neck race. The cloud of controversy surrounding Black, who’s been caught up in campaign-finance and ethics scandals recently, could lead Democrats to choose someone else for the position, she said. Elected by the House of Representatives, the speaker’s power to make committee appointments and control the legislative agenda gives him or her a lot of influence on the overall direction of the House.

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