North Carolina’s General Assembly kicked off its new session Wednesday with pomp, ceremony and a bow to bipartisanship – even in Mecklenburg County’s delegation.
In an often fractious legislature, harmony was the theme as lawmakers unanimously elected leaders and pledged to work collegially.
House members elected Rep. Tim Moore, a Republican from Kings Mountain, as their new speaker. Senators re-elected Sen. Phil Berger of Rockingham County as their leader.
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Mecklenburg County legislators elected Democratic Rep. Becky Carney of Charlotte and Republican Sen. Jeff Tarte of Cornelius as delegation co-chairs. Last session saw serious splits over control of Charlotte’s airport and other issues.
“This offers us a great opportunity this year to say this delegation is united,” Carney told her colleagues. “We are going to work together for the common good of Mecklenburg County.”
Wednesday’s gathering was an organizational session. Real legislative business starts Jan. 28.
Pledging to work together
Moore was presented the gavel by his predecessor, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis. The new speaker emphasized what unites lawmakers rather than what divides them.
“At the end of the day, we all come together in this room to move North Carolina forward,” he said. “There are great ideas about the problems facing North Carolina from both sides of the aisle.…
“When you see the media you think that we’re up here fighting and arguing all the time. That, in fact, isn’t the case ... We will work together collegially.”
Republicans signaled the different tone in the temporary rules the House adopted. One change, for example, would require members to be notified the night before a bill undergoes substantial changes in committee. Leaders were criticized in 2013 for gutting a bill on motorcycle safety and replacing it with one changing abortion policy.
Moore called jobs “priority number one.” Berger promised more of what he called “conservative, common-sense policy changes,” including more tax cuts and fewer regulations.
He touted the record of the Republican legislature over the past four years. He credited GOP policies for cutting unemployment and lowering taxes.
“These policies have helped turn North Carolina around,” Berger said. “But make no mistake – there is more to be done.”
Moore said there was also little appetite to do more on social issues, at least in the House.
“We’ve addressed most of those,” he told reporters. “We’re at a position now where we can focus on governing (and) doing all we can to bring more jobs to this state.”
Democrats see unlikely ally
Both Berger and Moore later said there was also little appetite for expanding Medicaid. Advocates say expanding the health care program for the poor would benefit 500,000 North Carolinians with the federal government picking up the entire tab for three years, and 90 percent of it after that.
Democrats, who favor expansion, suggested they may have an unlikely ally – Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. The governor has said he may be open to some version of expansion. Though Republicans have veto-proof majorities in both chambers, Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue said the governor still has leverage.
“They can roll over us,” he said of Republicans. “They can’t roll over the governor.… We offer ourselves as a partner.”
Blue and House Minority Leader Larry Hall, however, also criticized McCrory over reports that he benefited from being on the board of lending company Tree.com. The Associated Press reported last month that the company made an accelerated payment of $185,000 to McCrory when he resigned from the board weeks after being elected governor.
The governor and his office dismissed the reports as politically motivated.
The Democratic leaders called for stronger state laws on economic disclosure.
How long the opening day harmony will last is unclear.
“The swearing-in is taking place today,” Republican Sen. Louis Pate of Wayne County told colleagues. “The swearing-at probably begins tomorrow.”