Exile on Jones Street: Mailbag: Same old same old

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kirk rossby Kirk Ross

You get a decent amount of feedback in this business these days, but it’s hard to find a way to answer each and every tweet, post or flaming bag of scat.

That’s why columnists invented the mailbag column, even though almost none of them have ever seen a mailbag in real life. For the record, they’re made of rough canvas and some of them smell funny — as in old. Some of the mailbags smell funny, too.

Those of us who get paid to write about politics tend to get a lot of questions with our feedback. They’re usual rhetorical, like: “Who in the hell do you think you are?” But there is one question for which people genuinely want an answer and I’ve been getting it more and more lately.

When is all this s*** going to end?

The basic answer, of course, has always been the same — the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in even-numbered years. It may seem counterintuitive but this has seldom been truer than it has for the cycle ahead. Here’s why:

As previously noted in this column, with the current districts there is very little chance that the majority in the state House or Senate could flip. The district lines are so airtight in the Senate that it is hard to see many seats changing hands at all.

But there’s a strong case to be made that 2016 will be the year of change after all, with presidential year turnout, which skews toward Democrats, causing the governorship to change and enough seats in the state House to flip to end the GOP supermajority in the chamber.

Since the GOP juggernaut depends on a friendly governor and solid supermajorities in both chambers, that would substantially change the nature of the game in Raleigh. The legislative majority, while still a majority would no longer be veto-proof. The new governor (is anyone running yet?) would actually have more clout than the current one despite being from the minority party, especially at budget time. It could even prove to be a more harmonious relationship than the current GOP infighting, which is about to get full-on messy again over Medicaid and transportation spending.

Very importantly, the combination of the veto and the ability to stop an override would likely mean the end of the kind of social legislation we’ve seen on abortion, gay marriage and defunding Planned Parenthood and we saw again this week in the new so-called “religious freedom” legislation.

The conventional wisdom says the political dynamics won’t really adjust until after the next redistricting and, given the lack of much change in either 2012 or 2014, it may seem like expecting something big to happen in 2016 is a bit much. But that’s kind of the point. It won’t take a wave election or new, less partisan districts. A substantial shift could come from just a handful of races. And polls suggest that it’s possible.

This week, a new survey from Elon University showed that Gov. Pat McCrory’s approval rating, although slightly up, is still lagging at 41 percent, with an almost equal number of respondents saying they disapprove of the job he’s doing. The poll also showed potential Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton beating a variety of GOP rivals.

McCrory, like Sen. Richard Burr who is also up in 2016, will need the coattails of a presidential nominee that drives GOP turnout and appeals to independents to counter both demographics and Democratic enthusiasm. At this point, Burr has a much higher approval rating and no opponent. McCrory is not so lucky. He’s on several prognosticatory lists as endangered.

On the legislature side, change may be more difficult to come by, but a recent survey by Public Policy Polling showed that the General Assembly remains as unpopular as ever with 51 percent of voters responding saying they disapprove of the job the legislature is doing. Low disapproval ratings don’t always translate to endangered incumbents at the local level, but coupled with recent demographic shifts in urban and suburban districts and the number of tight races in 2014 the door is open for the right candidates to flip more seats.

This is not a prediction. It’s far too early for that. But you wanted to know when it’s going to end. And the answer, just maybe, is sooner than you think.