Legislative leaders make clear who’s in charge

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 16, 2013

This is an excerpt from “The Party Line” political blog at www.wfae.org, written by Dr. Michael Bitzer, professor of political science and history at Catawba College.

When the North Carolina General Assembly gaveled the two chambers into session, the leaders of the House and Senate took to their respective podiums to deliver their outlook on the upcoming biennium session of the legislature.
And it was clear that both leaders had distinct visions for their chamber’s work.
House Speaker Thom Tillis of Mecklenburg delivered an address aimed at both sides of the political aisle.
Starting off by talking about his time in the minority, the speaker addressed the 43 Democrats now in the minority and seemed to strike an amicable tone with the opposition, but made clear that the Democrats could work with the majority when the minority’s proposals were “consistent with our (GOP) policy direction.”
The speaker spent a significant portion of his address on the issue of education, recognizing the significant impact the state has on both K-12 and higher education.
But he also made it clear that GOP policies would be the chamber’s focus; for example, pledging that the state would be the “least unionized state” in the nation and reforming the state’s tax and regulatory policies would be key initiatives.
On the other side of the legislative building, President Pro Tempore Phil Berger of Rockingham delivered a sharper tone.
Launching his speech with a call to “renew the fight for reform,” Berger did not seem to make any appeals to the Senate’s Democrats. In fact, he indicted the Democrats by observing that “for too many years, North Carolina tried to tax and spend its way to prosperity” and that “our leaders had lost their way, and our state lost its place as the leader of the South and the envy of the nation.”
With two more seats than it held in the previous session, Berger went on to say that the GOP has “the opportunity to set sweeping policy to change the direction of North Carolina.”
The real eyebrow raiser in the Republican leader’s speech, though, had to come not as the broadsides against the Democrats, but against members of his own party in the nation’s capital: “There is a real difference between a Washington Republican and a North Carolina Republican,” Berger annunciated. “North Carolina Republicans deliver.”
It is true that with super-majorities of 77 representatives and 33 senators, not to mention the governor’s office, the Republican Party has the opportunity to fundamentally reshape the Tar Heel state that they have waited for since 1870.
But as Senator Berger declared that his party “will not waste this great opportunity” and considering that both men are eyeing a potential prize of a U.S. Senate seat in 2014 (currently held by Democrat Kay Hagan), will the opportunity to do as they please get the best of them?