There’s a General Assembly election too.

There’s a General Assembly election too.

- in Fitzsimon File

The General Assembly will consider a $5 billion transportation bond next session if House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman gets his way. Holliman wants as much as $450 million of the bond to pay to replace the bridge over the Yadkin River.

Holliman made the remarks at a recent candidate forum in Thomasville covered by the Lexington Dispatch. Republican Rayne Brown is running against Holliman and criticized him at the forum for his positions on annexation and eminent domain legislation.

Holliman talked about his efforts to ban smoking in workplaces and restaurants and a tax credit lawmakers passed for small businesses that offer health insurance to their employees.

There are plenty of other important issues that the General Assembly will face next year, not the least of which is a budget shortfall that could reach $2 billion and threaten human service programs and public education.

Every year state lawmakers make more decisions that affect the daily lives of people in North Carolina than any other part of government, yet races for the General Assembly barely show up is most election coverage.

Very few candidates are running television ads to raise the profile of their races. Even if they did, the commercials would be lost in all the 30-second back and forth between Obama and McCain, Dole and Hagan, and McCrory and Perdue.

The media, particularly the state's largest newspapers, have fewer reporters covering politics, or anything else for that matter. But the races go on whether they are covered or not and there will be a new General Assembly elected in a month.

Democrats control the House by a 68-52 margin. Holliman thinks the Democrats will gain seats though most political observers think the margin will stay roughly the same. Sixty-one members of the House are either unopposed or have only a Libertarian opponent, 36 of them Democrats and 25 Republicans. Many more have only token opposition from the other major party.

Democrats control the Senate 31-19 and despite the perception that it will be a Democratic year, most pundits expect Republicans to gain several seats but fall short of the 25 or 26 needed to control the Senate, depending on who is elected Lieutenant Governor. Twenty-one Senators are unopposed or face only third-party opposition, 12 Democrats and nine Republicans. 

Party control gets most of the attention, but there are plenty of interesting individual races too.

Ninety-year-old retired banker John Forlines, a Democrat, is running against Republican incumbent Edgar Starnes from Caldwell County.

Former representative Steven LaRoque from Lenoir County is trying to retake his seat  from Democrat Van Braxton and former House member Mark Hollo is trying to win his seat in Alexander County back from Democrat Ray Warren who defeated him two years ago.

Former Senators R.L. Clark and Keith Presnell, both Republicans from the mountains, are also trying to return. Presnell's race against Democrat Joe Sam Queen is expected to be very close. Former Republican House member Louis Pate and Snow Hill Mayor Don Davis are battling to replace retiring Senator John Kerr.

There are several realtors running for the House and Senate, most notably Alamance County Republican Richard Gunn who is trying to unseat incumbent first-term Democrat Tony Foriest. That race made the news last week as Gunn claimed Foriest wasn't tough enough on immigration, not surprising given the troubling behavior of Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson.

Republicans expect House member Debbie Clary to win the Senate seat currently held by Democrat Walter Dalton, who is running for lieutenant governor. There are plenty of other races with fascinating subplots and stark differences between the candidates.

A lot is at stake in the 2009 General Assembly session and it promises to be one of the most challenging in years. That makes the legislative races all the more important and worth the extra effort to find out about them.