Here’s my list of the top 10 North Carolina news stories for 2010, for you to ponder and critique.
1. The November elections. Republicans took charge of both houses of the Legislature for the first time in more than 100 years. This is easily my top story.
Is this shift to Republican control permanent? Nobody knows for sure. But longtime Democratic political consultant Mac McCorkle told me recently that when Republicans have won control of other Southern state legislatures, they have generally kept it.
And when they redraw electoral districts this year, Republicans will undoubtedly enhance their chances to stay on top.
Republican legislators will fill many seats on state boards, including the UNC Board of Governors. This will give more Republicans the experience and motivation to compete for elective office in the future.
The Republican victory also marks the end of an era. Under Marc Basnight, the Senate leader was arguably more important in setting policy and allocating resources than anyone except perhaps the governor.
2. Former Gov. Mike Easley. The lengthy series of news stories, the state and federal investigations, and the resulting felony plea agreement embarrassed Easley and the entire state. An unwelcome addition to North Carolina's political history, it depleted both the public interest and energy needed to attend to other very serious and more immediate problems facing the state.
3. The Edwards Saga. Elizabeth Edwards’ Dec. 7 death was a sad reminder of how close she and John Edwards came to giving North Carolina its first White House family since the Civil War and the inglorious end to their quest.
4. North Carolina’s economy. Every one of us has been touched, whether by a lost job or house or business opportunity or chance for retirement or some other aspiration that now won’t be achieved. This sad news surrounded us everywhere, every day.
5. State budget crisis. Although it’s directly related to the economic mess, the state budget is a separate news story. The gap between revenues and the money needed to fund ongoing programs required painful cutbacks last year. But the bigger news in 2010 was the developing certainty that this year’s budget cuts would cause even greater pain.
6. Wake County schools. The Wake County school board’s complicated struggles could be considered a local story, but the conflicts over school-assignment policy have resurrected statewide concerns about re-segregating formerly integrated schools.
7. The census. At this point, only preliminary reports on the results of last year's census are available. But it’s already clear that the population shift from North Carolina’s rural areas to the urban and suburban regions in the center of the state will be accompanied by a power shift in the General Assembly that may ultimately prove more important than the political shift triggered by the recent election.
8. Leadership change at the University of North Carolina. Does the end of the Erskine Bowles era also mean the loss of his amazing ability to maintain the system’s stability despite budget cuts? Tom Ross, the former president of Davidson College, faces even greater challenges as Bowles’ replacement.
9. Banking. The state continued its melancholy watch as Wachovia gradually disappeared into Wells Fargo and the Bank of America acquired its first nonlocal leadership. Meanwhile, all the state's banks struggled to adjust to new regulations and changed business practices in the post-recession U.S.
10. New businesses. A few new businesses, such as a series of data processing centers in Western North Carolina, made news and gave us hope for recovery and growth.
— D.G. Martin hosts UNC-TV's North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs Sundays at 5 p.m. For more information or to view prior programs, go to unctv.org/ncbookwatch.