As 2014 ends, it is appropriate to reflect on the year that was and look ahead to the year that will be. The last year in politics was both usual and unusual. The hyper-partisan political culture that has been the norm for the better part of the last two decades continues to result in gridlock on Washington and increasingly negative and expensive political campaigns. Every governmental institution has high disapproval ratings. At the same time, we experienced a second Republican midterm wave (maybe a wavelet this time) as the party increased is hold over state legislatures, governorships, and the US House of Representatives, while winning back the US Senate. The election results reflected this dissatisfaction a second term president with low approval ratings.
While these and other events might be considered “politics as usual,” there were a number of unexpected events with long-term consequences for the country and state. On the international stage, ISIS, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and Ebola created major challenges for countries around the world and, at least temporarily, has created coalitions of nations that may not have been likely without these events. OPEC reasserted itself on the world oil stage by agreeing not to curtail oil production, a decision that is putting a serious strain on the Russian economy and may do more to cause Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine that even the threat of military action. Closer to home, President Obama took executive action on immigration and normalizing relations with Cuba, decisions that angered his opponents, but may help the country’s role in the hemisphere. In North Carolina, the environment took centerstage with a major coal ash spill in the Dan River raising questions about government oversight of business practices and about who pays the costs of problems.
As the new year begins, there are many givens in the political world, such as the powerful influence of elections on policy decisions, as the 2016 campaign for president, governor, US Senate, and other offices has already begun and many of the players who will shape policy decisions in 2015 already having an eye on Election Day 2016.
With the specter of the 2016 election already influencing politics in 2015 and many uncertainties around the world, I offer the following ten predictions about what will happen in the next calendar year:
The presidential campaign will take full shape by early summer and be well defined by year’s end. An open seat presidential election always brings out more candidates, but the 2016 campaign will be full of folks exploring the option of running, especially on the Republican side. By June, however, Democrats will have only one serious candidate–Hillary Clinton–and Republicans will have around a half dozen candidates–Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson. By December, the Republican field will be down to three serious players with Bush, Paul, and Perry surviving the invisible primary.
The candidate with the most up and downside candidacy is Hillary Clinton. Clinton has been the anointed by most Democrats since 2012 and her announcement will essentially reduce the nomination field to one. Clinton’s main challenge is how she positions her candidacy from the moment she announces her desire to seek the presidency. Despite her name recognition, she is viewed suspiciously by liberals, especially on issues like Wall Street regulation. Likewise, moderate men worry about her on national security issues, after her change of positions on the Iraq War. If Clinton runs as the woman candidate for president and does not take definitive stands on domestic issues like income inequality or a clear foreign policy, she will lose. I expect her to run a far better campaign than she did on 2008 and aggressively define herself as a slightly left-of-center Democrat who runs on her Senate record. She will differentiate herself from President Obama and end 2015 with a solid, but not insurmountable lead in early presidential polls over the leading Republican contender.
President Obama will focus most of his energies on world problems. The domestic situation for President Obama is grim with Congress in the hands of Republicans. Although Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are motivated to work, to a degree, with the president to pass legislation, Obama may end up vetoing many pieces of legislation. There are two foreign situations in which the president may make his mark in 2015. A deal may be cut on Iran’s nuclear arms development program that allows the United States and Iran to move toward normalizing diplomatic relations. On the other hand, relations with North Korea become much worse and President Obama will be successful in putting pressure on China to force a major change in the North Korean government.
Immigration reform will pass Congress and be signed into law by President Obama. Despite claims by some prominent Republicans after the president’s executive order postponing deportation for over 5 million illegal immigrants in this country, cooler heads will prevail and Republicans will propose and pass legislation similar to that passed by the Senate in the last Congress. They will insist that border security be strengthened first before dealing with legalizing the status of the over 11 million undocumented immigrants, but the message will be clear than Republicans want to get the issue off the table before the 2016 presidential election.
A budget will pass Congress and be signed by the president. The federal government will have a full budget for the next fiscal year, starting on October 1, 2015. Republicans and Democrats alike realize the absurdity of passing short-term continuing resolutions and how this process contributes greatly to Congress’ low approval ratings.
The courts continue to be the major legislative body in the United States. The federal and NC supreme courts will have major roles in laws in 2015. Major cases relating to the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage will result in the court making important changes in health care and civil rights in 2015. The US Supreme Court will strike down the individual mandate, rendering Obamacare almost toothless. The Court will rule in favor of same-sex marriage using the equal protection clause, making marriage for gays and lesbians possible in all states by year’s end. The North Carolina Supreme Court will also be a major player with state laws as it strips the mandate for physicians to talk about sonograms and discuss options with women seeking abortions. In the matter of whether the General Assembly can change the process for appointing members to boards and commissions, the court will side with Governor McCrory and give him more appointments on the Coal Ash Commission.
The 2015 legislative session in the General Assembly will be loud and long. Even though Republicans added seats as a result of the recent elections and will have a new House Speaker, who may get along better with President Pro Tem Berger in the senate, it is almost a guarantee that the session will be filled with many battles. The budget will continue to create rifts within the General Assembly, especially if a bill in passed shifting sales tax revenues from urban to rural counties. This bill underscores one of the central fault lines in North Carolina politics–between urban and rural and budget battles are common, even within the Republican caucus over such matters. Other difficult issues will be proposing a replacement for Common Core and taking up nonpartisan redistricting. For the first time, a redistricting bill may make it out of committee and be considered on the floor of at least one chamber.
Governor McCrory’s power will continue to grow. For the last two years, Senator Phil Berger has been considered to be the most powerful politician in Raleigh, but the governor’s influence over the state has grown. I expect the governor to continue trying to shape the legislative process on issues like Medicaid Reform and education as the next session develops. With his reelection bid beginning in earnest in 2015, he will form even stronger relationships with the business community in North Carolina as he continues to pursue a more moderate policy agenda.
Incoming US Senator Thom Tillis will surprise many in North Carolina and be a very effective senator. After a bruising senate campaign against Kay Hagan, many in the state have low expectations for Tillis as the junior senator. I think he will become a key ally of Mitch McConnell and help the body return to its former status as the more deliberative of the two chambers of Congress. He will play a key role in helping McConnell thwart efforts by Tea Party favorites like Ted Cruz to pull stunts like shutting down government for ideological reasons. Tillis will also impress his detractors for how hard he works and how well his offices perform constituent services.
Democrats in NC will make big changes. After suffering through a bad year at the polls and an even worse years at their state headquarters, the Democratic Party in North Carolina will have new leadership and begin recruiting new candidates for the future. Many names are being mentioned to run against Senator Richard Burr, including that of recently defeated Kay Hagan. Hagan will end up not running and Democrats will push to have a less well known, but younger candidate to run against Burr.
Predictions like these are often not worth the paper (or computer screen) they are printed on. It is likely that unexpected events will change the likelihood of even the most predictable events occurring.