Commentary: Gun-toting teachers and other 2013 predictions

The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)January 3, 2013 

One of my more foolhardy endeavors at the beginning of each year is to make some predictions of what is likely to happen during the upcoming year in North Carolina government and politics.

If nothing else, the exercise teaches one to be humble.

In last year’s predictions column, I forecast that former Sen. John Edwards would be acquitted of charges of abusing campaign finance laws; that the constitutional amendment banning same sex marriages would easily pass, and that the Republicans would easily keep control of the legislature in their gerrymandered districts.

I predicted that Republican Pat McCrory would be elected governor, and that Republican Mitt Romney would win the GOP presidential nomination and carry North Carolina, although I incorrectly predicted he would choose Sen. Richard Burr as his vice presidential running mate.

I incorrectly predicted that the Republicans would pick up two congressional seats – they picked up three. And I was wrong when I forecast that Wake County Commissioner Paul Coble would defeat former U.S. Attorney George Holding in the 13th district GOP primary. Holding’s money trumped Coble’s greater electoral experience.

With that mixed record in mind, here are my predictions for 2013. Democrats may want to avert their eyes. With the Republicans in control of all three branches of state government for the first time since the 1800s, 2013 will not be a good year for progressives.

A conservative year

North Carolina will soon have a new law requiring voters to produce photo identification at the polls. The measure was previously passed by the Republican legislature, only to be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue. The new Republican Gov. Pat McCrory has said he will sign it. The bill undoubtedly will be crafted in a way to withstand the court challenges that are sure to come.

The Democratic challenges to the GOP redistricting plans for the legislature – the key to the Republicans holding power in Raleigh – will be unsuccessful. This was guaranteed after the GOP raised millions to make sure they kept a Republican majority on the N.C. Supreme Court.

The Republicans are talking about the biggest tax overhaul since the Great Depression of the 1930s. I predict there will be some disappointed people. The legislature will shave off the top corporate and personal income tax rates to bring it more in line with surrounding states. But they will stop short of more radical changes when their plan runs into opposition from dozens of groups faced with prospective new taxes.

The legislature will also fear public and political backlash if they try to replace an invisible corporate income tax with very visible higher sales taxes. The last thing this legislature or this governor wants to be known as is “The Great Republican Taxer.”

New policies

North Carolina will take steps to move forward with the more controversial aspects of energy exploration, such as offshore drilling and fracking in shale deposits. While it will kick up a fuss, none of this will be noticeable, because such exploration is years away and, in the case of drilling in the Atlantic, requires federal approval.

In the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., the legislature will pass a law making it easier for teachers to carry guns in schools – a move that will prompt anguished debate on Jones Street and across the state.

House Speaker Thom Tillis will make known what everybody already knows – that he will run against Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in 2014. But he will not have a clear shot at the GOP primary. The seat is too tempting a target for Republicans. It is not clear yet who will be his opposition: U.S. Reps. Renee Ellmers, George Holding, former U.S. Ambassador Jim Cain, state Sen. Leader Phil Berger, or perhaps his son, District Attorney Phil Berger Jr.?

Despite opposition from some conservatives to financial incentives to entice industry to locate or expand in North Carolina, McCrory will insist on keeping the tool to compete with other states, and the legislature will not want to be viewed as anti-jobs.

The legislature will pass a business-friendly plan to put the unemployment insurance system – which is now deeply in debt – on firm financial footing, mostly by making workers rather than employers pay. It would sharply cut benefits, eligibility and the duration of benefits. It would also add a modest tax on most businesses, although a sizeable number would see their taxes reduced. Christensen: 919-829-4532

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