RALEIGH, N.C. — Hurricane Florence’s floodwaters were still in the streets of North Carolina when the dueling branches of the state government started bickering about the aftermath.
Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, sought an Oct. 9 start for a special session about storm recovery. The General Assembly’s Republican leaders wanted to return to Raleigh more than a week earlier, on Sept. 28.
They agreed to split the difference and open the session on Tuesday. But few people are betting that the deal-making momentum will last long.
Instead, the partisan rancor that has come to define the state’s politics in recent years is expected to play a role in North Carolina’s long-term response to the storm, which left at least 37 people dead in North Carolina and unleashed a panoply of troubles. And hard on the heels of the special legislative session will come a storm-shadowed election that will determine whether Republicans retain veto-proof supermajorities in the legislature.
“The currents will be moving under the surface,” said Gary Pearce, a columnist who was a longtime aide to Jim Hunt, a Democrat who was North Carolina’s longest-serving governor. “You can’t take politics out of anything, and this state is so, so polarized, so politicized, and the last eight years have been so angry and bitter, that even in a disaster like this, it’s going to hard for people to set it aside.”
Few state governments in America have been as divided in recent years as the one in North Carolina, where Democrats and Republicans have regularly fought pitched battles over issues like redistricting, voting rights, bathroom access for transgender people, education, and executive authority.
And with a new set of challenges connected to the storm, including unnerving environmental hazards and tens of thousands of damaged homes and displaced residents, the capital’s most influential figures are not yet clenching their fists. Instead, elected officials from both parties have been publicly declaring their desire for bipartisanship and consensus in the special session.
“It’s important to me, and I think it’s important to other folks in the legislature and folks in the executive branch, that the people that have been devastated by this event do not see us as doing anything other than trying to help,” Phil Berger, the Republican leader in the State Senate, said in an interview in his narrow office overlooking Jones Street.
Mr. Berger, who will do much to set the tone of the special session, outlined an initial round of proposals that even Democratic lawmakers say will draw wide support, like extending regulatory deadlines and appropriating money to pay teachers for the missed school days that must be made up.
The harder work of doling out storm-recovery spending will come later, when lawmakers have more complete damage assessments from Mr. Cooper’s administration. Those deliberations, officials say, could be far more politically charged as legislators weigh how much to spend and where to direct those dollars.
“When a storm rolls in, it doesn’t come with a party label, and our response can’t, either,” Mr. Cooper said in an interview on Thursday. “I know that both Democratic and Republican legislators have…