By L.A. Williams. Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — As Republicans take the helm of the North Carolina General Assembly for the first time in more than a century, conservatives across the state are looking forward to lawmakers’ voting on a number of social issues that have been languishing in committee. But in the N.C. House, perhaps no vote that representatives cast all year will be as significant as the first — the one that elects the Speaker of the House.
“This is a critical post because the Speaker controls the agenda — which bills are heard and which are snuffed out in committee,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “That’s why it’s important that believers across the state start praying now. Even before the beginning of the session, they should be aware of whose running for Speaker and hold their lawmakers accountable for whom they support as Speaker.”
Leadership in both chambers, including Speaker of the House, President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Majority and Minority leaders, will be new. Senate Minority Leader for the past six years, Phil Berger of Rockingham County is expected to take the Senate’s top spot. But the House Speaker post is more complicated, with at least five lawmakers — Mitch Gillespie, Ric Killian, Johnathan Rhyne Jr., Paul Stam and Thom Tillis — tossing hats in the ring.
So, who should be the next Speaker?
“The Christian Action League does not endorse candidates, but works instead to inform constituents as to what they might expect,” said the Rev. Creech. “All we can do is look at how these folks voted last year, what bills they sponsored and what they’ve promoted as their priorities.”
Not surprisingly, all of the five were co-sponsors last session for the Defense of Marriage Act. Additionally, all five sponsored the Unborn Victims of Violence bill, the Ultrasound Before Abortion bill and the Abortion-Woman’s Right to Know bill, for which Killian was a primary sponsor. Gillespie was a primary sponsor of the Choose Life Specialty License Plate, which the rest co-sponsored, with the exception of Rhyne.
In the alcohol arena, Tillis was primary sponsor of the Malt Beverage Special Permit law, which was opposed by the Christian Action League. The law now allows for beer tastings at any retail outlet where beer is sold or at trade shows, conventions, shopping malls, street festivals, etc.. Killian and Rhyne also voted for this bill. All of the Speaker candidates voted for the ABC Modernization bill, which the CAL also supported.
In addition to their sponsored bills and votes, all of which can be viewed on the N.C. General Assembly Web site (www.ncleg.net), the candidates’ background and stated agendas will be helpful as lawmakers decide on a leader. Below is a brief look at each.
Mitch Gillespie: A small-businessman from Burke County who was just elected to his seventh term, Gillespie represents District 85. He said late last week that creating jobs and balancing the state’s budget would be on the top of his to-do list followed by whatever legislation the caucus wants to push. He said he would expect the marriage amendment to be on the ballot for 2012, and that the Choose Life Specialty Plate, along with more than 50 other plate bills, would be packaged and dealt with early on. Gillespie has already been mapping out how redistricting, the privilege of the majority party after each census, might look and said he believes an overall chairman and three regional chairs can come up with fair districts that meet the legal requirements and win majority support without taking away time from other critical issues. Gillespie said one thing that sets him apart from the other candidates is that he wants to weaken the power of the Speaker so that rank and file lawmakers and the people they represent can have more of a say in what happens in Raleigh. He said rather than the speaker making committee assignments, he’d want a committee of at least five key leaders to entertain lawmakers’ requests, choose the best suited for the jobs and present those to the caucus for a vote. As for working with a Democratic governor, Gillespie said he looks forward to seeing what savings Gov. Perdue proposes in her budget but would absolutely be opposed to efforts to privatize liquor sales, which may be a part of her financial plan.
Ric Killian: Republican freshman leader in the N.C. House for 2007-2008, Killian represents District 105, in Mecklenburg County. He served as vice-chairman of the Homeland Security, Military, and Veterans Affairs committee last year and was a member of committees on Appropriations, Environment and Natural Resources, State Government/State Personnel and Transportation. A graduate of West Point, Killian displays a slightly edited version of the Academy’s honor code — “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do” — with “Representative” replacing “Cadet” on his office door in the Legislative Building and on his desk on the floor of the house. He has been self-employed, worked for a small family business and for large publicly traded companies. He has also developed residential communities and been involved in residential and commercial real estate.
Johnathan Rhyne Jr.: A Lincolnton attorney and businessman, Rhyne was elected to the legislature at 29 and served four terms from 1985 to 1992. He came back to the General Assembly after being unopposed for election in 2008. Rhyne told the Lincoln Tribune that “Scandals in Raleigh have become almost routine. The state budget is exploding. Someone must provide leadership, sanity and common sense to the legislative process.” He said he hoped his experience as a businessman and professional person, along with his previous career as a legislator, would allow him to be “effective right from the start.” Rhyne has been named a “Super Lawyer” by Charlotte magazine and led the effort to form a community bank in Lincoln County. He represents District 97 and was a member of a number of committees including Education, Ethics, Finance and Wildlife Resources.
Paul “Skip” Stam: Minority Leader for the House, Stam has served five terms. An Apex attorney, he represents the 37th House district in Wake County. Stam lists on his platform that he will support bills that promote more freedom, less government, clean water through regional cooperation, empowering parents to ensure quality schooling for children, fairness to state employees, pro-life protection for mothers and children, protection for property from condemnation abuse, stopping illegal immigration and traffic solutions. According to an article on the American Independent Web site, he told the Northern Wake Republican Club last week that the next state budget will be “hugely unpopular” because of the extreme cuts required, but that the public will come to appreciate it in the long run. He stressed that ethics and fair rules would be a priority and that he expected the Legislature to act quickly on the marriage protection amendment. However he said the “first order of business” would be to seek an exemption from the national health care law.
Thom Tillis: Current Republican Whip, Tillis represents Mecklenburg County in the 98th District and has completed two House terms. He lives in Cornelius and has a background in management consulting, having been a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. He describes himself as a “rock solid fiscal/free-market conservative” and an opponent of tax increases and wasteful government spending. His Web site lists “lowering taxes, controlling spending and improving education” among key issues. He mentions jobs, transportation, crime and punishment, environment and public safety. Tillis told the Associated Press that closing the budget gap without raising taxes and redistricting have to be top priorities and that social issues may have to be put aside temporarily.
The Republicans are set to caucus in Raleigh on Saturday and vote on who they’ll put forward as Speaker of the House. Stam and Tillis appear to be frontrunners. The Legislature won’t go into session until Jan. 26, 2011.
Meanwhile, Christians are urged to look closely at the Speaker of the House candidates and contact their own lawmakers with their input.
“This is also a great way to open up a line of communication with your representative before the session opens and debate gets heated. Congratulate your lawmaker on his or her win and ask whom they are considering for Speaker,” said the Rev. Creech. “Then share your priorities so your lawmaker knows what issues are most important to you. Veteran legislators will be able to give you more details on why they believe one lawmaker would be better than another in the Speaker role. And those headed to Raleigh for the first time will, no doubt, appreciate your encouragement.”