Breaking the Supermajority: An Interview with Duane Hall
Duane Hall represents District 11, Wake County, in the N.C. House of Representatives, where he currently serves his third term.
Hall first involved himself with politics in high school, during the Hunt-Helms election in 1984, culminating in the most expensive senate race to that point in history.
“I thought public service was how you could change the world. I volunteered for Governor Hunt.”
But the Democratic Governor would go on to lose, narrowly, to the incumbent Senator Helms. “That’s when I first discovered that politics was very cyclical; so that exact same electorate that elected Jesse Helms, two years later chose Terry Sanford, who turned out to be my political hero, mostly for reasons of courage.”
Along his path toward elected office, there were a few bumps. “There were lots of mistakes, but that’s the way you learn,” Hall offered. “I first ran for the N.C. House when I was in my twenties, and lost badly. I made the mistake of running against an incumbent in a primary.”
But those mistakes helped to mold his understanding of politics. Hall recalled an adage: “You don’t really understand politics until you lose, and then all the mysteries become apparent.”
By the time he did win a seat in the General Assembly, Democrats had lost their majorities. However, even with the Republicans in control, Rep. Hall has found ways to be effective. “I’ve passed more legislation in the past year than any other House Democrat. That was mostly by working across party lines and having Republican co-sponsors."
That does not mean that Raleigh abounds with bipartisanship, though. Hall suggested that Democrats try to cross the aisle, but Republicans have no need to requite any overtures. “I think we try to work with them, but the absolute political reality is that they have a veto-proof majority and they don’t need to work with us.”
That veto-proof majority has been a source of ire for Democrats in the General Assembly. Legislative subterfuge has played a role as well. “Half the time, we don’t see bills or amendments until the day they’re dropped on the floor, or the night before, including major parts of the budget.”
“I know people have said we did it too, but it was nowhere near the type of supermajority they have,” Hall noted, referencing the long reign Democrats enjoyed in North Carolina prior to this decade. “If you look at the last time Democrats drew the maps, the election turned out about 60 Democrats and about 50 Republicans. It wasn’t a supermajority, and it was somewhat in line with the way North Carolina was voting at the time.”
Referencing the infamous gerrymandered districts in the state, Hall observed that, “Right now, you can have more North Carolinians voting for a Democrat but still get a supermajority of Republicans elected. It’s a completely rigged system.”
On the topic of contentious districts, the General Assembly just passed legislation changing the makeup of judicial elections next year in North Carolina. Hall said that they were probably a worse gerrymander than the legislative districts.
“They drew lots of open seats where there is no incumbent judge, and in those seats every single one is drawn to elect a Republican judge. And in the last session, we put R’s and D’s next to every judicial race.”
The fate of these districts, it seems, will be similar to their legislative counterparts: challenged in the courts. “I’m certain there will be a court battle over the districts, but we may have to go through an election before we get to that,” Hall said.
North Carolina has been a hotbed of political controversy after a slew of laws were contested in court. Rep. Hall offered some thoughts on HB2 and if parts of it remain still today.
“Lots more needs to be done. That repeal was one of the toughest votes for me because the downside was, if you voted for the HB2 fix, municipalities and cities couldn’t extend further protections. Basically, that put us back to where we were before, which at least froze in place the further protections implemented in some cities.”
Although the decision to repeal HB2 faced backlash from both ends of the political spectrum, Hall still thinks his vote was right. “Had we not done that, those extra protections would not be in place.”
Hall also presented some thoughts on a past voter ID law. He cited some reasons why the law focused more on depressing turnout than preventing fraud.
“I think the easiest way to make clear that this was purely political and not about voter fraud is that the only area where there’s significant fraud is in absentee ballots, and that’s the one area that wasn’t touched. That’s because Republicans do better mainly from overseas military voters. So the one area with measurable fraud is the one area they didn’t touch because that’s where they do better.”
Hall added that the bill, which he labeled draconian, was probably the worst in America. “People say ‘just show your ID,’ but those are hurdles against your constitutional right to vote. I’d prefer an automatic voter registration, where you’d have to opt out to not be registered to vote.”
In the short term, Hall will seek reelection to his current seat in District 11 next year, which would be his fourth term. He said that he is focused on breaking the veto-proof majority in the N.C. House.
As for the future, “If we break the supermajority, I would like to consider running for something statewide in 2020.”
While there will be Democrats as Attorney General and Governor, another position will not have an incumbent in 2020.
“Lieutenant governor would be an option.”