Archived Story

Legislators, board discuss partisan politics

Published 10:56pm Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Partisan politics — or at least that subject — surfaced during the meeting of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners and three area legislators last week.
The matter came up as the board and legislators discussed issues such as roads, revenue options for local governments and the Affordable Care Act.
Commissioner Robert Belcher initiated the discourse when he talked about the Wake County Board of Education.
“You’ve got a Democratic school board (even though it’s supposed to be nonpartisan) and a Republican county commission. This situation up there is the most political situation up there in your entire life,” Belcher said.
“Oh, yeah,” replied state Sen. Bill Cook, one of the three legislators.
“They have even introduced a special bill in Wake County to change the way school-board members are elected. If you’ve read the News & Observer in the past few days, it would lengthen the current Republicans’ terms on the school board and shorten the Democrats’ terms on the school board,” Belcher, a Democrat, said. “So, you’ve got to take all of this and put it into context in Wake County of politics. What happens in Wake County, where they have the largest school system in state, and what happens in Beaufort County, where we’ve go 7,000 to 8,000 students, are two completely different things. … They’ve just got a big mess, and they’re trying to change it through politics, which is the wrong thing to do.”
Board Chairman Jerry Langley, a Democrat, weighed in on partisanship.
“Be it whether you’re a Democrat or whether you’re a Republican, it’s time for all of us to put aside our own preconceived ideas about everything and really work together for the best resolution for everybody,” Langley said. “I’m going to be perfectly honest with you, I’m going to be real with you. The Republicans control the House. You control the Senate. Am I walking around crying the blues? No, I am not. What I am saying is because you represent everybody, we should be doing the things that best benefit everybody. I wish we would stop being so partisan in everything that we do.”
Langley suggested a more “middle of the road” approach when it comes to politics and government.
“In respect to what Jerry is saying, I think you guys should not think about party. Just to what you think is most pragmatic for the continued existence of North Carolina and the republic — whatever it takes,” said Commissioner Stan Deatherage.
“Well, I don’t know about guys, but I bet they do the same thing I do. When I consider an issue, I think about my values, my conscience, what I think is right,” Cook said. “The next thing I look at is: what do the folks back home want me to do? Do they want me to do this? OK. If I don’t have a value that prevents me from doing it, fine. The last thing, the last thing I look at is my party — what is my party going to do.”
Cook said he believes most legislators do what they believe is right first.
State Rep. Michael Speciale, whose 3rd House District includes part of Beaufort County, said freshmen legislators cannot afford to play the partisanship game and push their agendas because they will lose credibility.
“There’s 43 freshmen up there, Republican and Democrat. I don’t see a whole lot of partisanship in the freshmen. I see it in the old guard, but as they leave, hopefully, it (cooperation among legislators) will continue,” Speciale said.
Speciale gives some credit to House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican, for creating a spirit of cooperation with Democrats.
“They’re out there on the floor debating. They’re getting some of their bills out on the floor, something that wasn’t happening a few years ago when it was the other way around. Republicans couldn’t even get up and make amendments. They wouldn’t even let them talk. So, he’s done a lot to help minimize the partisanship here, at least among those of us who haven’t been up there long enough to be polluted,” Speciale said.

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