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The N.C. legislative soap opera continues

By Fannie Flono
Associate Editor
Jack Betts
Fannie Flono writes on news, politics and life in The Carolinas. Her column appears on the Editorial pages of The Charlotte Observer.

I know there are more important things going on in the world. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is apparently killing his people with chemical weapons. The FBI is grilling three other suspects in the senseless Boston Marathon bombing. Bangladesh is still recovering from the toppling of an illegally constructed garment building where a mind-boggling 410 people (at least) died and thousands more were injured.

Yet in North Carolina, the No. 1 show for a lot of people is the N.C. legislature. It’s a tragicomedy that seems to get more outrageous from week to week. When a frustrated Democratic Sen. Josh Stein lamented on Wednesday that “North Carolina is not a banana republic,” after a Republican leader refused to count hands in a close vote, legislative observers were left wondering about that “not” in his sentence.

Still, it’s the comedy that’s been garnering a lot of attention of late – too much of it national attention. This week – again – Republican Rep. Larry Pittman of Concord took center stage.

Pittman, if you’re not caught up, went on a tirade at a tea party event recently that was memorialized in an online video. He criticized Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis of Mecklenburg over bills Pittman and some other conservatives had authored that he didn’t feel were getting attention. He said their legislation was being held hostage (my word, not his) to the higher political aspirations of the speaker. “I was proud to vote for Thom Tillis to be speaker again, when we got back up there this year,” he said, “because last session, he was great... But, now he’s running for U.S. Senate, or planning to, (and) things have changed.”

Pittman quickly changed his tune once the video of his comments started circulating. On Wednesday, he apologized and asked for “forgiveness” from Tillis, who had denied the charge. Pittman wrote in a letter to the media that he and Tillis still had “some disagreement about the process (but) I have done damage to his reputation in a manner in which I did not consider at the time.”

Pittman’s going rogue on Tillis and his party was a better soap opera than his strained mea culpa. For Tillis’ part, his aspirations for higher political office are well-known. He said this week he has not decided whether he will challenge Democrat Kay Hagan for her Senate seat in 2014. If he wants the unaffiliated vote, it would be politically savvy for him to restrain some of the extremes in his party by burying their wacky legislation in committee or throwing it out.

I’m for a leash on these extremists, whatever the motivation.

Pittman, especially, needs reining in. He’s captured the spotlight way too much with his absurdities. Last January, he was calling for public hangings as a deterrent to crime. Among the criminals who should get the sentence: doctors who perform legal abortions.

Then last August, he accused Planned Parenthood of “getting wealthy on murder for hire” and disseminated erroneous information that the group got 75 percent of its income from abortions. Abortions account for about three percent of its revenues.

This year, he co-sponsored the embarrassing and unconstitutional resolution for North Carolina to establish its own religion. He said he and the other sponsors had wanted to fix the legal issues in committee. Tillis, though, declared the bill dead.

Pittman is most peeved at Tillis, it seems, over stalled gun legislation he has proposed including a constitutional amendment for residents to carry concealed weapons and legislation for teachers to carry guns at schools. He said the bills are needed to fight “federal tyranny.”

Forget Pittman’s apology. Can the people of North Carolina get an apology from the Concord voters who elected him?

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