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03

Roy Cooper has seen this movie before. This time, he plays the lead.

Thirty years ago, Cooper was a freshman House member. The Governor was a Republican. Democrats controlled the General Assembly. There were only 50 Republicans among the 170 House and Senate members. And the Governor didn’t have veto power.

When Governor Jim Martin sent over a budget, the pooh-bahs would ceremoniously dump it in the trash can. They wrote their own budget, passed the laws they wanted and took away as much of his power as they could.

They were so spooked by Martin’s election in the 1984 Reagan landslide they even thought about moving elections to odd-numbered years.

Three things happened next.

First, Governor Martin found some common ground with Democrats on tax cuts, education and the highway trust fund.

Today, Governor Cooper and Republicans talk nice. But common ground isn’t so common any more. Teacher pay maybe?

Second, Governor Martin made legislative leaders a political target. He blasted their high-handed ways. He made an issue of narrow, partisan, iron-fisted control by a small band of leaders, many from rural areas.

Sound familiar?

In 1988, Martin won reelection against Lieutenant Governor Bob Jordan. And Republican Jim Gardner beat powerful Senator Tony Rand for Lieutenant Governor.

(A footnote: During the 1988 campaign, Martin was bedeviled by the Executive Director of the state Democratic Party, who held a series of media events mocking Martin as a do-nothing “sitting” Governor. That was Ken Eudy, now Governor Cooper’s senior adviser.)

The 1988 debacle led a group of House Democrats to rebel against long-time Speaker Liston Ramsey from Madison County. They joined with the Republicans, ousted Ramsey and elected a coalition speaker, Joe Mavretic.

One of the rebels: Roy Cooper.

In 1986 and 1988, more and more Republicans got elected to the legislature. By the time Martin left office in 1993, Republicans were on the rise. They won control of the House in 1994 and 1996.

The third thing that happened? As Martin’s biographer John Hood wrote: “Martin helped overturn a near-monopoly on political power by one party.”

In “Catalyst: Jim Martin and the Rise of North Carolina Republicans,” Hood says that Martin planted the seeds that grew into Republican legislative majorities after 2010 and, for the last four years, GOP control of all three branches of government.

Martin launched and propelled the careers of a generation of talented Republicans who engineered those victories: Art Pope, Jack Hawke, Paul Shumaker, Bob Orr, Nelson Dollar and others.

All in all, not a bad performance by a minority-party Governor up against a powerful legislature.

Now Democrats long for a sequel: “Catalyst II: Roy Cooper and the Revival of North Carolina Democrats.”

 

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