Fresh off a whipping at the polls, North Carolina’s GOP did something unusual during the lame-duck legislative session in Raleigh.

They listened.

After years of using a veto-proof supermajority and loyalty from the rank and file to ram through bills in quick succession, Republican leaders in the General Assembly took a starkly different approach to their last big legislation of the biennium: voter ID.

  • They shared a first draft days in advance.
  • They started off the workweek by holding a public hearing to collect concerns about how voter ID would be implemented.
  • They collaborated with critics and incorporated their concerns into the bill.
  • They supported amendments from members on both sides of the aisle.
  • And finally, they sent a bill to the governor that had Democrats thanking them for their work.

Now, conservatives very well might criticize the resulting bill. It reads like Frankenstein legislation, full of caveats and bolt-ons. It makes meeting voter ID requirements as easy as it possibly could be, at considerable cost to the state. Some on the right might believe that if Democrats are praising the bill, it doesn’t do enough.

But it’s quite the turnaround from how the General Assembly handled, say, the budget adjustment bill earlier in 2018.

While Republican leadership put out some press releases on what would be in it, the actual text of the bill was under wraps until very late in the process. It got pushed through without a full vetting, perturbing even some Republican lawmakers.

Will this be the new standard operating procedure for a North Carolina Republican Party without a supermajority? It very well could be. If Democrats are fully involved in the legislative process, it certainly makes it harder for Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to veto the resulting bills.

What will be fascinating to see is whether this resonates with voters. Will conservative voters be turned off by a GOP with its tail between its legs? Will moderates start to think more highly of a new, gentler Republican Party?

Will it be enough to reverse the tide in 2020?

Cover image of the General Assembly building by James Willamor via Flickr (Creative Commons

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