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Patrick Gannon: Parting shots in Raleigh

RALEIGH — Frustrated, defeated and over it.

Those words sum up the feelings of Rep. Nathan Baskerville, a Henderson Democrat, as he finishes his second, two-year term in the state House. He isn’t running for re-election.

Baskerville spoke matter-of-factually in a lengthy interview on Domecast, the News & Observer of Raleigh’s weekly political podcast.

He explained a variety of reasons he chose not to run for a third term, including the time commitment, the pay and conditions inside the General Assembly.

“For one, the level of discourse in the Legislature, I feel as though has fallen to an all-time low,” Baskerville said. “Folks don’t talk to each other. There’s no cooperation. It’s easier to retreat to our respective corners and just lob bombs across the aisle at each other. And that, I wasn’t interested in participating in anymore.”

A 35-year-old lawyer, one of the youngest members of the General Assembly, Baskerville also talked about his life revolving around the Legislature and trying to do five days of legal work in one day. During legislative sessions, the General Assembly typically meets Monday nights through Thursdays, with days off on Fridays.

And Baskerville detailed the frustrations of serving in the minority party. (Of course, he’s not the first generation of lawmaker to feel that way.) He said he had ideas that could make North Carolina better, but they didn’t get much attention in a Republican-dominated body.

While some Democrats have had more success than others in working with their GOP counterparts, many Democrats surely share Baskerville’s concerns.

Baskerville said he believes a few powerful Republicans in the House and Senate control the flow of legislation and must put their stamps of approval on any legislation that becomes law. As members of the minority, Democrats must reassess what victory means, he said. Often, it’s making legislation they oppose a little better – what he called “damage control” –  bringing awareness to details of bills that the general public might not understand or simply speaking out.

“You just beat your head against the wall for four years and you just have to realize enough is enough,” he said.

Baskerville also bemoaned the pay that rank-and-file legislators receive, just under $14,000 a year, plus $104 in per diem pay during sessions, along with health insurance. The money, combined with long and inconsistent hours, make it difficult for younger legislators trying to make ends meet. Legislators’ pay is discussed frequently around Raleigh, but it hasn’t been increased in a long time, as the political fallout might be great.

And, not surprisingly, Baskerville talked about gerrymandering, which has left many Republicans and Democrats across the state in secure districts, where they don’t have to worry about repercussions of their votes because re-elections are almost guaranteed.

“There is no reason for representatives to try to understand the other side or try to reach out and find some common ground because your district has been drawn in a way that allows you to take the most extreme positions possible,” he said.

When his time in the General Assembly is behind him, Baskerville said he’ll look for other ways to serve his community. He’s done with lawmaking – at least for now.

“After four years in the Legislature, I have to do yoga twice a week to be able to calm down,” he said.

Patrick Gannon is the columnist for the Capitol Press Association. Reach him at pgannon@ncinsider.com.

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