Legislative Republicans see a chance to win more Democratic support for GOP bills following Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue's decision to not seek a second term.
Perdue's work in the past year has been defined by a bad relationship with the Republican legislature and political standoffs that led to her vetoing a record number of bills. The legislature canceled a number of her vetoes and passed its own budget over Perdue's objections.
Though Perdue still has the bully pulpit and the veto stamp, it remains to be seen how she handles the declining influence that comes with her lame duck status or whether her relationship with legislative Republicans improves.
Even if it doesn't, Rep. Mitch Gillespie, a McDowell County Republican, anticipates more bipartisan support for GOP initiatives. Republicans hold a 68-52 majority in the House and a 31-19 majority in the Senate. House Republicans, lacking the 72 members needed to override, have had a harder time rounding up support to counter Perdue vetoes. But Gillespie said he thinks that will change.
"Democrats are not going to be beholden to her anymore," said Gillespie, a House budget writer who is working on big environmental bills for this spring. "Conservative Democrats are going to be more willing to (take) more centralized-type positions."
Democratic legislators said the next session won't be much different from the last, with House Minority Leader Joe Hackney seeing no signs of more of his caucus moving away from Perdue's positions on crucial issues. The legislature will start its short session May 16.
No longer a foil
What will change, Democrats said, is Perdue's usefulness as a political foil for Republicans. Sen. Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat, said the partisan frame will be removed from Perdue's ideas, allowing them to be considered for their substance.
"The legislative leadership won't have much to gain by just picking on her," Blue said. "They'll have to have someone else to pick on. Her ideas will rise and fall on their own merits and not on the political leanings of the legislative leadership."
Perdue said she decided not to run to depoliticize the fight over education funding. Perdue's last big policy announcement was a promise to put a 3/4-cent sales tax increase into her budget, which would raise $850 million, according to her office. She said she would use the money for education.
The state Department of Public Instruction reported that in 98 of 100 counties, 6,383 school positions were eliminated this school year and 2,418 employees were laid off from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Of those jobs, about 1,724 were K-12 teaching positions.
More than 530 teachers were laid off.
Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at N.C. State University, said he didn't see Perdue getting any negotiating benefits from her decision not to run. She'll play defense this year just as she did last year, he said.
Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, said he hopes the legislature is able to find common ground with Perdue, but a tax increase isn't going to fly.
"We're not going to raise taxes," Berger said. "We made that promise to the voters, and we intend to keep it."
Perdue has been out of sight since Wednesday night, but she is expected to appear at a big Democratic fundraiser today.
Members of both parties say Perdue is a hard-working governor. Democrats expect her fast pace to continue.
Revenue Secretary David Hoyle and other Cabinet members met with Perdue on Thursday morning. Hoyle said the meeting was somber, but Perdue made it clear she would work hard in her last year in office and expected everyone else to do the same.
"Everyone felt a certain amount of sadness, but there was also a certain amount of relief for her," Hoyle said.
Perdue did the best she could in the face of a miserable economy, Hoyle said.
"She's going to finish her term on an upbeat note," he said. "I commend her for that."
Staff writer John Frank contributed to this report.