Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 26, 2011

By Karissa Minn
RALEIGH — For the opening day of the North Carolina 2011 legislative session, Republicans painted the capital red.
The GOP’s symbolic color covered men’s ties and women’s blouses or jackets as they celebrated their first majority in the General Assembly since 1870.
One of the crimson ties and dark suits belonged to N.C. Rep. Harry Warren, the newly elected representative for the 77th District in Rowan County.
On the floor of the House Wednesday morning, Warren showed his wife and two daughters his new personalized stationery and the switch he will press to vote on bills.
“I feel like I’m 21 years old again,” Warren said. “I’m so rejuvenated by this whole process.”
Fellow Rep. Fred Steen, who represents Rowan County’s 76th District, offered some advice to Warren before the session began at noon.
“Take in this moment,” Steen said. “It’s a great thing to be a part of.”
Warren’s wife, Catherine, held his engraved Bible as he was sworn in with the other newly elected representatives.
He then cast one of 74 verbal votes to elect Rep. Thom Tillis as speaker of the House. Rep. Dale Falwell was later elected speaker pro tempore with 68 votes.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve as the speaker of the House at this juncture in North Carolina history,” Tillis said. “We’ll be forced to make difficult decisions, and we’ll find numerous opportunities to improve our state.”
Tillis said the legislature must bring spending to a level in line with revenue, lower taxes and eliminate waste, fraud and abuse — while making sure to protect North Carolina residents and keep the state’s most important functions funded.
Former Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Hackney, a Democrat who also was nominated for the position, said the Democratic minority looked forward to working with Tillis and the Republicans “on a cooperative basis.”
“One thing you will see from the minority is civility,” Hackney said. “While debate will be vigorous — and, I hope, open — we will do it in a manner that honors the institution of the North Carolina House.”
Warren said afterward he hopes that spirit of cooperation will continue, noting that Tillis was approved by 74 people in a chamber with 67 Republicans.
“That means we had to have some Democratic votes,” Warren said. “That’s a clear signal of a willingness to recognize Tillis’ abilities … and go forward in a bipartisan fashion.”
The House also passed a temporary set of rules 110-8 after Hackney asked for and received assurance that they would be debated soon.
When he voted as a representative for the first time, Warren said it finally struck him that his campaign is over and his work as a legislator has begun.
“I’m very excited to be at the doorstep of making history and being part of it,” Warren said. “What we do here in this session is going to have a lasting impact on the state and the next generation.”
He said Republicans are serious about their 100-day legislative agenda, which includes passing bills to challenge federal health care reform and require photo identification to vote.
Warren also said he will be one of the primary sponsors on a bill to reform the state’s annexation laws. He has stated that he is opposed to involuntary annexation, believing communities should have a vote.
After the House adjourned, Steen said he’s “very excited” that the Republicans are in the majority, and he acknowledged the challenges ahead.
“It’s about jobs, and it’s about building back the economy around that,” Steen said. “Hopefully, the policies and laws we pass will help us get there.”
N.C. Sen. Andrew Brock said the meeting of the state Senate also went smoothly, with some minimal debate about the temporary rules.
He said legislators already have started looking at ways to cut and consolidate in order to “right-size” the government — a term used by Republicans several times Wednesday.
Legislators will be meeting in committees today to start work on the budget, he said.
“It’s normally been about a month or two month wait, but we’re getting into it,” Brock said. “In fact, we wanted to meet (Wednesday) afternoon, but then we were like, ‘Well, we’ve got our families here, and we want to eat.’ ”
Warren and Catherine’s daughters, 13-year-old Alexandra and 11-year-old Morgan, sat as honorary pages on the House floor Wednesday.
“It was really interesting to be in there and see what happens,” Morgan said.
Alexandra agreed that it was fun to watch the legislators press a button to vote because she’s always wondered how it works.
“We’re really proud of him,” she said of her father. “We’re glad we got to see this.”
Warren may have quit his job at Tar Heel Capital Corp. to become a representative, but he’s not moving to Raleigh. He said he’s coming back home to Rowan County most days while serving.
Starting next month, Warren plans to hold regular town hall meetings locally to help him keep in touch with his constituents and their concerns.
Catherine said she is encouraging her husband to stay in Raleigh when he’s needed there, but also to keep his focus on the people in Rowan County.
“I told him, ‘You can’t just go off to Raleigh the way we have people go off to Washington,’ ” Catherine said. “We live here, and this is our home.”
Contact information for Rowan’s N.C. General Assembly delegation:
• Sen. Andrew C. Brock (R)
District 34, Davie and Rowan counties
300 N. Salisbury St., Room 623
Raleigh, NC 27603-5925
• Rep. Harry Warren (R)
District 77, Rowan County
300 N. Salisbury St., Room 533
Raleigh, NC 27603-5925
• Rep. Fred F. Steen II (R)
District 76, Rowan County
300 N. Salisbury St., Room 305
Raleigh, NC 27603-5925
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.