House Republicans keep Tillis in charge

jfrank@newsobserver.comNovember 17, 2012 

— Speaker Thom Tillis will stay at the helm of the N.C. House for a second two-year term after a unanimous vote by Republican lawmakers Saturday.

The Charlotte-area legislator faced no opposition from within the GOP caucus, even though his tenure remains uncertain and a few rank-and-file conservative members expressed concerns about his leadership in the previous session.

Tillis, who is seen as a moderate Republican, will steer a chamber with a GOP super-majority that gives it unchecked power to override gubernatorial vetoes and set its own House rules to push its agenda. The GOP holds 77 of 120 House seats and now controls the entire lawmaking process with a super-majority in the N.C. Senate and the election of Pat McCrory as governor.

“I am honored by the unanimous support of the Republican caucus,” Tillis said in a news release. “During our first two years, we were able to accomplish great things for the state of North Carolina. … I look forward to leading them for the next two years.”

The GOP meeting at the Brownstone Hotel in Raleigh was closed to the public.

The biggest questions facing Tillis’ next term as speaker is whether the 52-year-old Cornelius businessman will seek the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2014, and whether he can keep his two-year state post if he decides to launch a campaign for higher office.

Tillis is expected to retire from the House in 2014 under self-imposed term limits, the same year Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan faces re-election. He remains mum on whether he plans to challenge Hagan, but party leaders consider him a potentially formidable contender. His pending departure also will launch a power struggle within the House Republican caucus.

As Republican House members began to organize for the January session of the General Assembly, a handful vied for other leadership positions that might provide platforms from which to seek the speakership in two years. Three lawmakers, including House GOP leader Paul “Skip” Stam of Apex, are seeking the No. 2 post of speaker pro tem. Another three want to lead the Republican caucus as majority leader.

Republicans postponed votes on those races until a December meeting.

Caucus members also decided Saturday to amend their plan of organization by adding the position of Republican conference leader.

Before Saturday’s meeting there was some discussion as to whether the GOP’s majority leader post would be split into two different jobs. Republican leaders said the unprecedented move is necessary to accommodate the large size of the caucus and the large number of freshman lawmakers.

Under the previously discussed plan, one lawmaker would run the caucus’ day-to-day operations and manage the floor calendar while another would handle the big-picture strategic planning and run the campaign operation. State law gives the parties’ respective leaders higher salaries and expense stipends but Republicans said they would split the money so it wouldn’t cost additional taxpayer dollars.

Jordan Shaw, a spokesman for Tillis, said the new conference leader position will take on some of the majority leader’s traditional duties.

“But the specific duties have not been defined yet,” Shaw said.

Republicans took power of the statehouse in 2010 for the first time in more than 100 years and proceeded to push a conservative agenda that significantly shifted the state to the ideological right. The caucus did not set an agenda at its meeting Saturday, but one is expected to come together in coming weeks.

Shaw said House Republicans spent most of their day-long meeting getting to know their 31 new colleagues.

Frank: 919-829-4698

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