A wearied North Carolina faces a third year of the pandemic with resignation and hope.
It is obvious that not enough will get the vaccine to beat down COVID, so we begin the year with the rapid spread of the omicron variant. We have established new norms and accept that masking and caution in public gatherings will be with us for some time. We also have come to the realization that everyone, whether vaccinated and boosted or not, will get the virus over the next few years. Omicron will wane but new mutations will emerge. As the virus mutates it will weaken to become similar to the flu, requiring annual vaccinations.
The main event of '22 will be the elections. North Carolina will be in the national spotlight due to three significant elections: the US Senate, Congress and our Supreme Court. Our state is perhaps the most gerrymandered of any and shortly after the year begins the courts will require maps be redrawn for congress and/or legislative districts. This shouldn't prevent the Primary Elections from being held, since they have already been moved to May 17th. The November 8th General Election won't be affected.
We will witness the re-emergence of the traditional Republican Party, tired of paying obeisance to Donald Trump and being associated with the likes of Mark Robinson and Madison Cawthorn. They are eager to return to the Jim Holshouser, Jim Broyhill and Jim Martin conservative philosophy. Exhibit A in this fight is the US Senate Primary, where Pat McCrory will win out over the Trump-endorsed candidate. The November election will see a tight race between McCrory and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, but McCrory will win. Republicans are better organized, conduct better campaigns and have a large fundraising advantage.
We will see those factors in the Congressional races. Expect Republicans to capture 9 of our 14 congressional seats, with Democrats increasing to 5, but with only one person of color in the Washington delegation. The factors will play into the two Supreme Court elections, both currently held by Democrats. Republicans will flip one of them to regain a 4-3 plurality on our highest court.
Republicans will see victories in legislative races, expanding their current majority status to regain veto-proof majorities in both houses. This will renew battles between lawmakers and Governor Roy Cooper, but since the GOP will have pluralities in both the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court expect more partisan verdicts.
Our economy will continue strong in '22. NC State professor-emeritus Mike Walden reports our 2021 economy grew at a 4.5 percent rate, besting the nation's 3.8 percent and our 2019 rate of 2.6 percent. Even so, we have 72,000 fewer pre-covid jobs. Growth will be a more modest 3.5 percent. It is unlikely we will see many "elephant size" announcements of new plants this year; instead, we will begin to absorb the record recruitments from 2021. Some price reductions will evidence a modest decrease in inflation.
Look for a resurgence of small towns, as the combination of expanded broadband, the continuation of work-from-home jobs and innovation come into play. An example of the latter is the Town of Ayden. Aided by matching state funding, Ayden will build a 24,000-foot facility to help small food processors package and deliver food to the market until those producers can get a facility of their own.
Several big stories will involve education. The first will be funding for the Leandro joint agreement. The Supreme Court will decide whether the courts can force lawmakers to appropriate needed funding for schools. We will continue to see teachers exit the classroom, worn out from being pawns during the virus protocols, anger directed from parents over critical race theory and inadequate compensation and respect for what they face daily. Schools will be hard pressed to continue in-class instruction but a return to virtual learning would virtually guarantee end-of-grade tests will once again be dismal.
The trust deficit will spread wider and deeper; rage will be more apparent on the roads, in schools and public places. No peacemakers appear to bring us together for more civil debate and resolutions, leaving many to wonder how long a republic can survive so much divisiveness and hatred.
2022 will be some better than the year ending and most certainly will have some bright spots. Our resolution is to make the best of what comes and pray for better days ahead.
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina Broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965. He recently retired from writing, producing and moderating the statewide half-hour TV program NC SPIN that aired 22 1/2 years. Contact him at email@example.com.