GOP lawmaker quits post after spat with House Speaker Thom Tillis

jmorrill@charlotteobserver.com jfrank@newsobserver.comMay 22, 2013 

— A private spat turned very public Wednesday when a Mooresville lawmaker aired a list of grievances against N.C. House Speaker – and fellow Republican – Thom Tillis, even handing over his gavel as co-chair of a powerful committee.

“I’m sorry you and I got caught up in a fight,” Rep. Robert Brawley wrote Tillis, in a letter read aloud by the House clerk.

Brawley, 69, is in his 10th term. He returned to the House this year after last serving in 1998.

Tillis, 52, is in his second and last term as speaker. He’s widely expected to run for U.S. Senate next year.

Even by legislative standards, their dispute became unusually personal.

In the letter, Brawley cited a litany of concerns. One involved Brawley’s introduction of a bill that would expand the service areas of MI-Connection, a cable company that serves Mooresville, Davidson and Cornelius.

“You slamming my office door shut, standing in front of me and stating that you have a business relationship with Time Warner and wanting to know what the bill is about,” Brawley wrote Tillis.

“… MI-Connection is being operated just like any other free-enterprise system and should be allowed to do so without the restrictions placed on them by the proponents of Time Warner.”

Tillis, who is from Cornelius, was unavailable for comment. Spokesman Jordan Shaw said, “We’re not going to go through the letter item by item.”

It’s unclear what relationship Tillis might have to Time Warner. His financial disclosure lists no connection. The company’s political action committee gave his campaign $4,000 last year, out of a total $1.7 million raised, according to reports filed with the state board of elections.

In his letter, Brawley also cited what he called “my little bill” he filed to de-annex 23 acres in the Iredell County town of Troutman. He appeared to blame Tillis for the fact that although the bill passed one committee, it’s apparently stuck in another.

“You know what has happened to it,” he wrote. “You have controlled it completely, or your staff has, under the pretense that we do not want to create conflicts with towns.

“Yet we run all over Buncombe County and Asheville as if it is some kind of hero in the legislature taking care of things.”

The General Assembly passed a bill taking the water system from the city of Asheville to a Metropolitan Sewerage District. Last year it transferred control of the Asheville’s airport from the city to a regional authority.

Brawley said he apparently upset Tillis on Tuesday during a floor debate over toll roads. Brawley opposes toll roads. He said the speaker summoned him to his office Wednesday shortly before session. Brawley said he had decided to resign his co-chairmanship of the Finance Committee.

“What should have been a private discussion became this,” he said.

Some lawmakers disapproved of Brawley’s actions.

“I thought it was an inappropriate use of the floor by Rep. Brawley,” said GOP Rep. Ruth Samuelson of Charlotte. If anything, she added, “I think it will help bring us together more because it doesn’t represent the majority of the (Republican) caucus.”

Rep. Craig Horn, a Weddington Republican, said, “If you have a disagreement, that’s not how one handles it, and I’m saddened.”

“We don’t need distractions,” he said.

Other Republicans refused to talk about it.

“I don’t have anything to say,” said House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes of Hickory.

It isn’t the first time this session that Brawley has attracted controversy.

Last month he filed a bill that would let lobbyists once again give unreported gifts to lawmakers. The bill would roll back ethics reforms passed in the wake of scandals that helped send former Democratic House Speaker Jim Black to federal prison.

The bill isn’t expected to get out of the Rules Committee, usually a burying ground for legislation.

Morrill: 704-358-5059

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