Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Senate changes again; GOP has new issue

The decision of nine-term state Sen. Charlie Albertson, D-Duplin, to step down after this term ends continues the march of Democrats out of the legislature -- and adds to the speculation that Republicans will capture a number of Democratic seats and take over the Senate next year.

In fact, Republicans Tuesday announced plans to push legislation that would exempt North Carolina from any federal requirement that every resident be required to purchase health care of pay a penalty. The bill likely won't pass in the coming short session, but it certainly would give Republican candidates a hot-button issue to campaign on this year. Republican leaders say they see their proposal as a positive initiative because they hear from so many people who don't like the health reform bill moving through the U.S. Senate.

Albertson, who also served four years in the House before moving to the Senate, is a popular county and gospel music singer with a flowing beard and an easy way with people. Lately he also has been a Senate appropriations committee chair and principal budget writer. At 78, he says he's exhausted. He joins four other Senate Democrats who won't run again, including Sen. David Hoyle of Gaston County, R.C. Soles, the dean of the Senate and longest-serving legislator, of Columbus County(who has been indicted by a grand jury for shooting an intruder at his home), and Julia Bozeman, D-New Hanover. Already resigned from the Senate are former Majority Leader Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, and David Weinstein, D-Robeson.

The decision of these six Eastern N.C. Democrats to leave changes the power structure of the state Senate dramatically. It robs Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight of veteran lawmakers from the East and furthers a shift of power from the East to the West, where Democratic Sen. Martin Nesbitt of Buncombe County will become the new majority leader. And it creates four vacancies to be filled by voters this fall and two other seats (Rand's and Weinstein's) where the Democratic incumbents will not have an established record of winning their districts. Republicans are enthusiastic about the possibility of winning six seats this fall and changing the Senate from a 30 to 20 advantage for Democrats to at least 26-24 in favor of Republicans.

Another departure will be Sen. Eddie Goodall, R-Union, who is not running again, but whose seat is regarded as a safe one for the GOP.

Meanwhile, Senate Republican leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, House Republican leader Skip Stam, R-Wake and State Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer announced plans Tuesday to file legislation in the short session (and next year, if the first try fails) that would exempt North Carolina from any federal requirement that residents purchase health insurance. Here's part of a press release the GOP put out:

"Raleigh, N.C. — The Republican leaders of the State Senate and House were joined by the Chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party today promising to fight the federal take-over of healthcare and protect an individual’s right to make decisions about their own health coverage. The Republican leadership promised a legislative initiative called the Health Care Protection Act (HCPA).

“Republicans will not stand idly by and watch as citizens' rights to make their own health care decisions are taken from them by the federal government,” said Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), “The people of North Carolina are overwhelmingly opposed to this blatant abuse of power. We are proud to be their legislative voice by putting forth this common sense initiative.”

"House Republican Leader Paul Stam (R-Wake) said the initiative should be supported by Democrats and Republicans alike. “This should not be about partisan politics; it should be about the individual freedom of our citizens." Stam noted that either a general statue or a constitutional amendment will be presented during the short session in May. If the Democratic majority blocks the initiative, it will be submitted again the first week of next year’s session, when he believes Republicans will hold a majority."

I don't doubt that the Republican are serious about trying to exempt North Carolina from any federal law requiring the purchase of health insurance, though I think it would have a long and hard court fight ahead of it. But regardless of whether such a law would stand up to legal scrutiny, you have to admit it would make a mighty good campaign issue to energize the Republican Party's base and encourage support for Republican candidates this fall. The issue might help Republicans gain control of the Senate and also take over the House, where Democrats have a 68-52 edge. If Republicans can pick up a net of nine seats, they'd have enough for a 61-59 majority.


diggndeeper said...

We need desparately to get term limits for all legislators and congresspeople. No one should serve more than 2 terms or 8 years in any one government body.

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