The government of North Carolina, shaped by its political system, is divided into three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. These consist of the state governor's office, a bicameral state legislature known as the general assembly, and a state court system. The state constitution delineates the structure and function of the state government. North Carolina has 13 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and two seats in the U.S. Senate.
The Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Commissioner of Agriculture, Commissioner of Insurance, Commissioner of Labor, Superintendent of Public Instruction, State Treasurer, and State Auditor form a ten-member North Carolina Council of State. Ten other executive department heads appointed by the governor form the North Carolina Cabinet. The state's current governor is Republican Pat McCrory.
The North Carolina General Assembly is the state legislature. Like all other states except for Nebraska, the legislature is bicameral, consisting of the 120-member North Carolina House of Representatives and the 50-member North Carolina Senate. Both the state House and the state Senate currently have Republican majorities. The lieutenant governor is the ex officio president of the state Senate. The Senate also elects its own president pro tempore and the House elects its speaker.
The state court system is led by the Supreme Court of North Carolina, the state supreme court, which consists of seven justices. The North Carolina Court of Appeals is the state's intermediate appellate court and consists of fifteen judges who rule in rotating panels of three. Together, the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals constitute the appellate division of the court system.
The trial division includes the Superior Court and the District Court. The Superior Court is the state trial court of general jurisdiction; all felony criminal cases, civil cases involving an amount in controversy in excess of $10,000, and appeals from the District Court are tried (de novo review) in Superior Court. A jury of 12 hears the criminal cases.
The District Court is a court of limited jurisdiction. It has original jurisdiction over handles family law matters (divorce, child custody, child support); civil claims involving less than $10,000; criminal cases involving misdemeanors and lesser infractions; and juvenile cases involving children under the age of 16 who are delinquent and children under the age of 18 who are undisciplined, dependent, neglected, or abused. Magistrates of the District Court may accept guilty pleas for minor misdemeanors, accept guilty pleas for traffic violations, and accept waivers of trial for worthless check and other charges. In civil cases, the magistrate is authorized to try small claims involving up to $5,000 including landlord-tenant and eviction cases. Magistrates also perform civil marriages. District Court conduct only bench trials, with no jury.
The state constitution governs the structure and function of the North Carolina government. It is the highest legal document for the state and subjugates North Carolina law. Like all state constitutions in the United States, this constitution is subject to federal judicial review. Any provision of the state constitution can be nullified if it conflicts with federal law and the United States Constitution.
North Carolina has had three constitutions:
North Carolina currently has 13 congressional districts, which, when combined with its two U.S. Senate seats, gives the state 15 electoral votes. In the 112th Congress, the state is represented by seven Democratic and six Republican members of congress, plus one Republican and one Democratic Senator.
|2012||50.39% 2,270,395||48.35% 2,178,391|
|2008||49.38% 2,128,474||49.70% 2,142,651|
|2004||56.02% 1,961,166||43.58% 1,525,849|
|2000||56.03% 1,631,163||43.20% 1,257,692|
|1996||48.73% 1,225,938||44.04% 1,107,849|
|1992||43.44% 1,134,661||42.65% 1,114,042|
|1988||57.97% 1,237,258||41.71% 890,167|
|1984||61.90% 1,346,481||37.89% 824,287|
|1980||49.30% 915,018||47.18% 875,635|
|1976||44.22% 741,960||55.27% 927,365|
|1972||69.46% 1,054,889||28.89% 438,705|
|1968||39.51% 627,192||29.24% 464,113|
|1964||43.85% 624,844||56.15% 800,139|
|1960||47.89% 655,420||52.11% 713,136|
North Carolina is politically dominated by the Democratic and Republican political parties. Since the 19th century, third parties, such as the Green Party and Libertarian Party, have had difficulty making inroads in state politics. They have both run candidates for office with neither party's winning a state office. After engaging in a lawsuit with the state over ballot access, the Libertarian Party qualified to be on the ballot after submitting more than 70,000 petition signatures
Historically, North Carolina was politically divided between the eastern and western parts of the state. Before the Civil War, the eastern half of North Carolina supported the Democratic Party, primarily because the region contained most of the state's planter slaveholders who profited from large cash crops. Yeomen farmers in the western Piedmont and mountains were not slaveholders and tended to support the Whig party, seen as more moderate on slavery and more supportive of business interests.
Following the Civil War, Republicans, including newly enfranchised freedmen, controlled the state government during Reconstruction. When federal troops were removed in the national compromise of 1877, the Democratic Party gained control of the state government, partly through white paramilitary groups conducting a campaign of violence against African-Americans to discourage them from voting, especially in the Piedmont counties. Despite that, the number of African-American officeholders peaked in the 1880s as they were elected to local offices in African-American-majority districts.
Hard pressed poor cotton farmers created the Populist Party to challenge the establishment. Conditions turned much worse in the Panic of 1893, as cotton prices fell. In North Carolina, largely black Republican Party formed a fusion ticket with the largely white Populist, giving them control of the state legislature in 1894. In 1896 the Republican-Populist alliance took control of the governorship and many state offices. In response, many white Democrats began efforts to reduce voter rolls and turnout. During the late 1890s, Democrats began to pass legislation to restrict voter registration and reduce voting by African-Americans and poor whites.
With the first step accomplished in 1896 by making registration more complicated and reducing African-American voter turnout, in 1898 the state's Democratic Party regained control of the state government. Contemporary observers described the election as a "contest unquestionably accompanied by violence, intimidation and fraud—to what extent we do not know—in the securing of a majority of 60,000 for the new arrangement". Using the slogan, "White Supremacy", and backed by influential newspapers such as the Raleigh News and Observer under publisher Josephus Daniels, the Democrats ousted the Populist-Republican majority. By 1900 new laws imposed poll taxes (voters had to pay a $1 tax, but not non-voters), residency requirements, and literacy tests. Initially the grandfather clause was used to exempt illiterate whites from the literacy test, but many were gradually disfranchised as well. By these efforts, by 1904 white Democratic legislators had completely eliminated African-American voter turnout in North Carolina. Disfranchisement lasted until it was ended by the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.
By 1900 North Carolina joined the "Solid Democratic South", with the blacks still members of the Republican Party but powerless in state and local affairs. However, some counties in North Carolina's western Piedmont and Appalachian Mountains continued to vote Republican, continuing a tradition that dated from their yeoman culture and opposition to secession before the Civil War. In 1928, North Carolina was one of five former Confederate states to vote for Republican Herbert Hoover, also electing two Republican Congressman from the western part of the state, Charles A. Jonas and George M. Pritchard. In 1952, aided by the presidential candidacy of popular war hero Dwight Eisenhower, the Republicans were successful in electing a U.S. Congressman, Charles R. Jonas, the son of Charles A. Jonas.
In the mid-20th century Republicans began to attract white voters in North Carolina and other Southern states. This was after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 under Democratic President Lyndon Johnson, which extended Federal protection and enforcement of civil rights for all American citizens. Because the Democratic Party had supported civil rights at the national level, most African-American voters initially aligned with the Democrats when they regained their franchise. In 1972, aided by the landslide re-election of Richard Nixon, Republicans in North Carolina elected their first governor and U.S. senator of the 20th century.
Senator Jesse Helms played a major role in renewing the Republican Party and turning North Carolina into a two-party state. Under his banner, many conservative white Democrats in the central and eastern parts of North Carolina began to vote Republican, at least in national elections. In part, this was due to dissatisfaction with the national Democratic Party's stance on issues of civil rights and racial integration. In later decades, conservatives rallied to Republicans over social issues such as prayer in school, gun rights, abortion rights, and gay rights.
Except for regional son Jimmy Carter's election in 1976, North Carolina voted Republican in every presidential election from 1968 to 2004. At the state level, however, the Democrats still controlled most of the elected offices during this time. President George W. Bush carried North Carolina with 56% of the vote in 2004, but in 2008, a strong year for the Democratic Party, its presidential candidate Barack Obama narrowly defeated Republican candidate John McCain in North Carolina, 49.7% to 49.4%, becoming the first Democratic presidential nominee to win the state in 32 years.
The Democratic Party's strength is increasingly centered in densely populated urban counties such as Mecklenburg, Wake, Durham, and Guilford, where the bulk of the state's population growth has occurred. The Republicans maintain a strong presence in many of North Carolina's rural and small-town counties, which have become heavily Republican. The suburban areas around the state's larger cities usually hold the balance of power and can vote both ways, and in 2008 trended towards the Democratic Party. State and local elections have become highly competitive compared to the previous one-party decades of the 20th century. For example, eastern North Carolina routinely elects Republican sheriffs and county commissioners, a development that did not happen until the 1980s. Currently, each party holds a U.S. Senate seat. The Democrats hold the governorship, state supreme court, and hold a seven-to-six majority of U.S. House seats from the state. However, in 2010 the Republicans won a majority of both houses of the state legislature for the first time since 1898. Whereas previous congressional redistricting plans for the state had favored Democrats, the newest plan is expected to favor Republicans.
Two Presidents of the United States were born and raised in North Carolina, but both men began their political careers in neighboring Tennessee, and were elected President from that state. The two men were James K. Polk and Andrew Johnson. A third U.S. President, Andrew Jackson, may also have been born in North Carolina. However, as he was born almost precisely on the state line with South Carolina, both states claim him as a native son, and historians have debated for decades over the precise site of Jackson's birthplace. On the grounds of the old state capitol in Raleigh is a statue dedicated to the Presidents who were born in the state; Jackson is included in the statue. Jackson himself stated that he was born in what later became South Carolina, but at the time of his birth, the line between the states had not been surveyed.
North Carolina remains a control state. Only 1 of the state's 100 counties—Graham, a rural county in the mountains of western North Carolina—remains "dry" (the sale of alcoholic beverages is illegal). Even in rural areas, the opposition to selling and drinking alcoholic beverages is declining.
By 2005, every state surrounding North Carolina had a lottery in operation. That same year, following substantial political maneuvering, the state legislature voted to implement the North Carolina Education Lottery. The state lottery began selling tickets on March 31, 2006. The lottery has had low sales since its inception.
North Carolina gave its electoral votes to Barack Obama in 2008.  This was the first time since 1976 a Democrat had North Carolina's electoral votes. The state narrowly flipped back to the Republican column in 2012, giving its electoral votes to Mitt Romney. Kay Hagan and Richard Burr represent the state in the US Senate.
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