From the Editor

Drescher: NC legislator advocates for those without a voice

jdrescher@newsobserver.comJanuary 17, 2014 

Tommy Tucker had a moment. His anger rose. His temper flared.

Tucker, a Republican state senator from Union County, is a member of an oversight committee on human services that met this week.

Legislators received an update on a terrible case. An 11-year-old boy in Union County, east of Charlotte, was found handcuffed to a porch with a dead chicken tied around his neck. An indictment alleged that the boy also had been chained in his room and had his face burned with an electrical wire.

The boy’s legal guardian at the time of the alleged abuse? Union County’s child protective services supervisor.

At the meeting, Tucker, visibly angry, urged state officials to temporarily intervene in the operations of Union County’s social services department. Tucker was incredulous when the state social services director said the state did not have the authority to intervene, David Perlmutt of The Charlotte Observer reported.

“I don’t know what urgency it takes” for the state “to dive in and run that agency day to day,” he said. “Forgive me, sir, this is unbelievable; it’s unconscionable that this could happen.”

State Sen. Tamara Barringer, a Cary Republican, wasn’t surprised by Tucker’s passion. She, like Tucker, has a special interest in issues related to child protection, foster care and adoption.

“He’s been a stalwart for those who cannot speak for themselves,” Barringer told me this week. “He’s down here for the right reasons. He’s a nice man, but you know he means business when it relates to these issues. He sees himself as a champion for these people.”

Another moment

Tommy Tucker had a moment. His anger rose. His temper flared.

Tucker had just chaired a committee meeting in April. A bill involving public notices in newspapers was hotly debated. N.C. Press Association members thought they won the voice vote; Tucker ruled that they lost and banged the gavel. Chaos ensued.

A publisher confronted Tucker and compared his tactics to those of former House Speaker Jim Black, who went to prison on corruption charges. Tucker exploded at the publisher. “I am the senator. You are the citizen. You need to be quiet,” Tucker said, according to members of the press. Tucker’s comments received national attention. Tucker disputes the quote.

I covered the legislature for five years. I’d never seen a lawmaker get in a citizen’s face as Tucker did. It wasn’t Tucker’s best moment. But he ought not be defined by that one moment.

Kids don’t vote

There’s no political gain in advocating for abused children and children without a home. They don’t vote. They don’t write campaign checks. I asked Tucker this week why he spoke for them.

Tucker, 63, grew up in Farmville in Eastern North Carolina with an alcoholic father. His parents died within three months of each other when he was 15. He was shuttled among family members. Eventually, a church paid for him to attend a military school in Virginia.

“I grew up with all that dysfunction,” he said. “I know personally what these children might feel. They need someone to represent them in a manner in which everyone else is represented.”

Tommy Tucker had a moment this week. His anger rose. His temper flared.

For children across North Carolina who need an advocate, it was a good moment.

Drescher: 919-829-4515 or jdrescher@newsobserver.com.

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