More NC Lawmakers Dropping Out: What’s the Cause and Solution?
By Hunter Hines
Christian Action League
October 29, 2015
RALEIGH – Two more members of the North Carolina House have announced their exit.
Two-term Democrat Nathan Baskerville (34) of Henderson announced on Monday, October 19th that he would not seek re-election in 2016. His announcement was followed on Friday, October 23rd, by veteran Republican Bryan Holloway’s (38) immediate resignation to become a lobbyist for the North Carolina School Boards Association.
Baskerville’s reasons for not seeking re-election, he said, were related to his law practice and the political climate in the Capitol City that has Democrats in the minority.
Baskerville serves the 32nd House District, which covers Vance, Warren and parts of Granville County.
Holloway served as one of the House chamber’s chief budget writers. He represented the 91st District, which takes in Stokes County and a part of Rockingham. Resigning now allows Holloway to meet the state’s prohibition that former lawmakers not lobby the General Assembly for at least six months prior to the end of their time in office. Lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene in April of 2016.
Recently the Christian Action League reported that Representatives Paul Stam, Leo Daughtry, Paul Tine, Jacqueline Schaeffer and Brian Brown had also said they would not seek re-election in 2016.
Now the League has learned from a reliable source there could be as many as 11 Republicans who will not seek re-election.
The situation has a few heads shaking and pontificating about the real reasons so many legislators are calling it quits.
In a recent column in the Raleigh News and Observer, Rob Christensen, surmised that the last session went on too long. He cited a lack of leadership by the Governor and his differences with Sen. Phil Berger, infighting between House and Senate Republicans, a budget process that requires greater transparency than in times past, no time limits on the sessions and voter ambivalence on the matter, as reasons for its length.
Christensen says the longer sessions force a situation where lawmakers have to largely be drawn from people who can afford to be in Raleigh for eight months. He says, “We have a part time legislature paying most lawmakers $13, 951 per year plus $104 per diem, plus $559 a month for office expenses. We have more population than Israel or Sweden, but we are still treating the job like a local county commissioner’s gig.”
Because North Carolina is now the ninth largest state in the nation and “nearly every state North Carolina’s size or larger has a full time legislature,” Christensen believes the Tar Heel state would do well to become full time.
But Sarah Curry, with the John Locke Foundation, takes issue with those conclusions in “The Locker Room”, arguing that they are misleading.
“According to the legislative finance office,” says Curry, “it breaks down to $104/day for 7 days a week or $728 per week during session to cover all expenses incurred throughout the week and a round-trip home. So the longer they stay in session, the more they are paid. This year lawmakers made plenty, since they stayed much longer than normal.”
Curry adds, “The general statutes state that members are allowed an expense allowance of $559 per month. Since all members sit on committees that meet during the interim, we can assume they all receive this 12 months a year. So that brings the total pay to $20,659. Not too bad when you consider the per capita income of North Carolina was $25,284 in 2013.”
Writing for “Politics North Carolina,” John Wynne succinctly sums up the issue, noting that the solution is to “[e]ither shorten the legislative session, raise pay for legislators, or establish a full time legislature.” But legislators voting themselves pay raises is never a popular thing to do, he says.
Wynne contends the current rate of pay to representatives essentially “keeps all but the independently wealthy shut out.”
“For the average citizen, serving in the legislature is a sacrifice and probably leaves some wondering why they fought so hard to get there. After this session, more than a few have figured out that the sacrifice isn’t worth it,” writes Wynne.
This week, Rep. Gary Pendleton (R-Wake), announced he is leading a bipartisan group of notable North Carolina leaders who want to push for a constitutional amendment for session limits. The group includes political heavyweights like former state attorney general and secretary of state, Rufus Edmisten, former Republican state Senator and former head of the North Carolina Chamber, Phil Kirk, prominent Republican donor, Bob Luddy, former state Supreme Court Justice Burley Mitchell, and retired chief of Carquest, Temple Sloan Jr.
Pendleton told media outlets he will introduce legislation for the session limits during the short session when lawmakers reconvene in April of next year. He believes session limits will cut costs for taxpayers, reduce infighting among lawmakers and impose a deadline on them to get their work done. Moreover, he believes it will make running and serving in the legislature much more feasible for younger people who would bring fresh ideas to the table.
Pendleton’s proposal would hold sessions in odd-numbered years to 90 days and limit even numbered year short sessions to 45 days.
“I am certainly in agreement something needs to be done, but unless it could be demonstrated that session limits would not short-circuit the opportunity for public input on legislative proposals, that it would not diminish the necessary time for thorough deliberation of the people’s business, that it would not hamper the time it often takes for lawmakers to work out their differences and check with their constituents, I can’t agree session limits is the way to go,” said Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
“Neither do I believe we need a full time legislature – something I think would lend to entrenched powers and professional lawmakers,” Dr. Creech added.
“There is an old biblical principle mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments that admonishes us not to ‘muzzle the ox that treads the corn’,” said Dr. Creech. “I realize this is not a popular argument, but I believe lawmakers are entitled not only to the prestige and honor of their positions, but also to a matching and adequate compensation. They’re not getting that now, and we should do better. Although they volunteer when they run for office, they’re put through the ringer. The demands and pressures of their position are intense, requiring considerable sacrifices by them and their families. Public service always precipitates certain disadvantages and hazards, but their pay shouldn’t be so low they have to choose between their primary means of income and service to the state. It’s a tough balance to strike, but failing to do this, I think, is an injustice to them and every North Carolinian.”
With the current political divide and the animosity for politicians in general, any proposed legislation, whether it be session limits, a full time legislature or the raising of a legislator’s pay, is likely to prove difficult upon which to find the necessary consensus for passage.