Some spoke out in the name of Jesus
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Wednesday’s opening of the N.C. General Assembly — with Republicans at the helm of both chambers for the first time since 1870 — was full of ceremony and celebration. But lawmakers, facing a $3.7 billion budget deficit among a host of other challenges, were quick to remind one another and their constituents that the real work is yet to come.
“This is a historic moment for this body and our state,” said Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), the new President Pro Tempore of the Senate. “But this is just a moment — history will judge us based on the substance of this session — not this moment.”
Berger wasted no time laying out some numbers at the heart of the budget problem — a 330,000 increase in workers in North Carolina between 2000 and 2009, during which only 13,806 jobs were created.
“Balancing the state’s budget and reducing government costs to families and business is how we can most effectively create jobs in North Carolina,” Berger said as he called on his colleagues to help return North Carolina to its “rightful place as the Southeast’s leader in job creation, education, transportation and quality of life.”
Elected to his post unanimously, Berger replaced longtime Senate leader Marc Basnight (D-Dare).
In addition to a balanced budget and a better environment for business and families, he promised common sense tort and medical malpractice reforms and more charter schools.
Both Berger and new Speaker of the House Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) talked about “right-sizing” state government, and both warned that the necessary belt-tightening won’t be easy.
“We must acknowledge the monumental task ahead of us. We are confronted with a budget deficit that threatens our ability to fund critical services and we are spending beyond our means,” said Tillis. “We must lower the heightened expectations as to what government should do for us and we must raise the expectations for what we must do for ourselves.”
With support from his party and a handful of Democrats, Tillis took the House top spot with 74 votes, beating out former Speaker Joe Hackney (D-Orange). Among the Speaker’s promises on day one: “We WILL cut spending to a level that is in line with our revenues. We WILL sunset the income and sales tax increases that were imposed on working families and small businesses in the prior session … we WILL complete our 100 day agenda.”
He said the transition to GOP control would mean “leadership that favors limited government, free markets, and Federalism. Leadership that understands that ‘TEA’ in TEA Party stands for Taxed Enough Already.”
Like Berger and Tillis, Rep. Dale Folwell (R-Forsyth), chosen over Rep. William Wainwright (D-Craven) as Speaker Pro Team, talked of government efficiency and getting more out of less.
He challenged the House to advocate for the state’s invisible, among them the third of high schoolers who don’t graduate, the jobless, the victims of crimes, and those “punished for the doing the right things … while those that do the wrong things are rewarded.”
“Focus on justice,” Folwell said. “We often talk about charity, but if you do what is just in the beginning there is not as much need for charity in the end.”
Specifically addressing the newly elected, Folwell told freshman to “Always, always, always … push the power away from this chamber, push the power away from your selves, away from this town, away from your title as representative, which is a noun, and back to the verb of representing the people of your district and those people who hired you.”
Promising to wield their new power with care, Republican leaders introduced new rules that they said will create a more open process and protect the rights of the minority, among them a 10-bill limit per lawmaker and the elimination of blank bills.
In prior sessions, a rule regarding a bill’s title led to committees’ approving bills with extremely long names which contained virtually the entire substance of the bill and prevented substantive changes in the legislation on the House floor. The new rules will prevent this, according to Tillis. He also promised term limits for the Speaker of the House and Speaker Pro Tem.
Rep. Hackney said Democrats were concerned about several of the proposed rule changes, which will be debated likely over the next two weeks. House Speaker Tillis told reporters that the 10-bill limit, one of the most contentious rules, should not decrease the number of bills ratified, but simply eliminate “reams of paper that never get looked at” and help lawmakers spend time on the most important measures. The rule doesn’t apply to local bills, interim or study bills.
Tillis also pointed to changes in the voter threshold for appealing the rule of the chair, from 2/3 to 3/5, as an indication of the majority’s willingness to share power.
“I would defy anybody … to refute my judgment that these are the most democratic rules that have governed this House for a quarter century,” he told the media.
Among the talk of rules and the assuming of new roles on Opening Day, some spoke out about the role of the Ruler of all.
Former Governor Jim Martin described himself as “a lobbyist, unregistered, before the Kingdom of Heaven” as he gave the opening invocation, ending with “We make our prayer, each in his own way, many of us in the name of Jesus.” Later, Rep. Folwell acknowledged, before thanking his family and others for their support, that “Jesus is the center of my joy.”
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said Christians across North Carolina should be lifting all their lawmakers in prayer as they tackle difficult issues.
“Opening day is exciting, especially with the hope — with more conservatives in leadership — that we’ll see progress on pro-life bills, the protection of marriage and other issues dear to Christians’ hearts,” said the Rev. Creech. “But it won’t happen without prayer and participation in the process. We urge Christians to be alert and on their knees.”