Six to watch during the 2013 legislative session

jfrank@newsobserver.comJanuary 26, 2013 

Fred Steen, legislative liaison for Gov. Pat McCrory

The former four-term House member from Landis didn’t seek re-election in 2012, losing his primary bid for Congress. But Steen returns to the legislative hallways this year as the new Republican governor’s chief lobbyist.

Even with the governor’s party running the show at the legislature, distinct differences will emerge as Steen tries to push the policy agenda of a governor who is more moderate than many GOP lawmakers. Steen holds street cred with the conservative wing as a former board member for the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative lobbying group that pushes legislation.

Harold Brubaker, lobbyist

A 36-year career in the N.C. House makes Brubaker a go-to at the statehouse. The Republican lawmaker served as a House speaker in the mid-’90s, and more recently as chief budget writer.

He resigned in July to open his own lobbying shop and didn’t need to solicit clients – they came to him. The timing allows him to start influencing his former colleagues this session. His only obstacle may be members of the large freshman class who don’t owe him favors from years ago.

Larry Hall, House Democratic leader

The Durham lawmaker begins his first term as the minority party leader in a session where Democrats find themselves largely irrelevant in the lawmaking process with GOP legislative supermajorities and a Republican governor.

The House Democratic caucus splintered last session. Now Hall, a four-term lawmaker, must unite them and develop a Democratic message and strategy to influence legislation and remain engaged in the policy debate

Edgar Starnes, House Republican leader

The upside to a 77-member House Republican caucus: enough votes to pass legislation. The downside: trying to manage all 77 members. This is the task that Starnes faces this session as the newly appointed caucus leader.

The 10-term lawmaker from Hickory must manage a caucus with a wide spectrum of conservative views, and temper frustrations from those who say Republicans aren’t going far enough in pushing their ideological agenda. At the same time, a power vacuum created by Speaker Thom Tillis’ retirement in 2014 opens the door to a underlying power struggle.

Bob Rucho, state senator

The Charlotte Republican put himself in the middle of the biggest policy debate this session: an overhaul of the state’s tax code. Rucho, a seven-term senator and dentist by trade, enjoys the spotlight. As the finance committee co-chairman, he is floating a proposal to repeal the state’s income taxes and offset the cuts with hikes in the sales tax. He is traveling the state to pitch the idea to business leaders.

At the same time, Rucho is a leading advocate for opening the state to fracking, a controversial practice of natural gas extraction, and a top priority for the new governor.

Pete Brunstetter, state senator

The budget starts in the Senate this session, putting the Lewisville Republican and appropriations co-chairman in a key position. Lawmakers aren’t facing a huge budget deficit, but the tax overhaul may make the task of balancing a budget more difficult.

In addition, Brunstetter, a Winston-Salem lawyer, serves as vice-chairman of the powerful rules and judiciary committees. His name also is mentioned in GOP circles as a potential candidate for higher office.

Staff writer John Frank

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