The election is over. The yard signs are collected and put away. I had a pleasant meeting with my opponent, Shelby Mood, and now it is time to get back to work.
Under the North Carolina Constitution, the so-called “Long Session” starts in late January. In other words, we don’t start filing bills, attending committee meetings, and voting until then. However, that doesn’t mean that the work hasn’t already begun.
The first order of business is to choose the new leadership. Thom Tillis has been elected to the U.S. Senate and obviously wouldn’t be back as the Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives. Rep. Ruth Samuelson (Mecklenburg) was the Republican Conference Leader, and she didn’t run for reelection. Rep. Edgar Starnes (Caldwell) was the Majority Leader, but he’s apparently not running again for that post. Bottom line is that we’ve got to choose some new leaders.
The new Republican Caucus will be composed of all of the Republican House members: 74 Republican legislators. The new Caucus will have three fewer members, since four Republicans legislators [Murry (Wake County), Moffitt (Buncombe County), Ramsey (Buncombe County) and Stone (Lee County)] lost their seats while picking up one Democratic seat (formerly held by Rep. Wilkins of Person County).
Even prior to the November election, some of my colleagues began jockeying for leadership slots, but the first meeting of the new caucus was held last Saturday in Raleigh with over a dozen legislators announcing for 7 positions. Thankfully, I’m not one of them. All House members are very interested in who is chosen, since the next order of business will be assignment of committee slots. The new leadership will also make office assignments and desk assignments on the floor of the House.
At the same time Caucus members are choosing their leaders, they are reviewing the Caucus’s Plan of Organization—the rules governing the Republican Caucus—and also the Rules of the House. The Rules of the House will be adopted by the full House when we convene in January, but they’ll come to the floor upon a recommendation from the Caucus.
So last weekend, I was in Raleigh to hear from all of the leadership candidates as to why I should support their candidacies. In two days, we’ll reconvene and elect our leaders. We’ll also likely make some changes to the Plan of Organization, since among the proposed changes is the creation of a new leadership post—Deputy Majority Leader.
No doubt this all seems like just process and procedure, but it is critically important in determining what one’s priorities might be in the upcoming session. For example, two years ago I was one of nearly two dozen legislators who’d just completed our freshman terms. I figured I’d probably be working on transportation and environmental issues. Then, I got a call from Speaker Tillis. He asked me to co-chair the Education Appropriations Committee, and suddenly my legislative priorities changed. I was also elevated to a chairmanship of one of the Judiciary Committees.
While I’d like to think that these appointments were simply a reflection of my competence, I’m not that naive. I was appointed because I was competent, but I was also appointed because leadership recognized that I was a team player. Of course, as it turned out, a certain coal ash spill occurred in early February of last year, and I also found myself thrust into the unanticipated coal ash issue.
So these leadership contests have real consequences. Ultimately, whomever are chosen as the leaders will need to appoint competent people to the various committee chairmanships, but they have a lot of discretion in making appointments and one’s ability to be effective for one’s constituents turn, in part, on whether one can navigate the leadership contests without sustaining any damage.