As the state legislature held an organizational session Wednesday to start 2017, several leadership positions and behind-the-scenes staff jobs changed hands.
Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore were easily re-elected for another two-year term, and no other candidates were nominated.
Moore re-appointed four Republicans to chair several of the chamber’s most powerful positions. Rep. David Lewis of Dunn will continue leading the Rules Committee, Rep. Nelson Dollar of Cary will still lead the budget committee, and Rep. Jason Saine of Lincolnton and Rep. Bill Brawley of Mecklenburg County will continue to chair the Finance Committee.
In the Senate, Sen. Louis Pate of Mount Olive was elected to another term as deputy president pro tem – the person who fills in for Berger when he’s absent. No Senate committee chair appointments were made Wednesday, although Sen. Bill Rabon of Southport had previously been named Rules Committee chairman, replacing Tom Apodaca.
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But some top lawmakers didn’t seek re-election this year, and two key staff members have left as well. Here’s who’s new:
House Speaker Pro Tem: Rep. Sarah Stevens, a Republican from Mount Airy, was elected unanimously to fill the position vacated by Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam of Apex, who did not seek re-election in 2016. In a moment of bipartisanship, the new House Democratic Leader – Rep. Darren Jackson of Knightdale – seconded the motion to nominate Stevens.
Stevens gave an intensely personal speech to the House in which she noted she’s interested in mental health issues because her brother committed suicide. “I do know a lot about mental illness because of that,” she said. “When we talk about suicide awareness, that is something that gets very personal to me.”
House Principal Clerk: Denise Weeks is retiring after serving as House principal clerk since 1993, and Wednesday marked the last time she opened a new session. To fill her position, House legislators unanimously elected James White, who’s been working under Weeks since 2012.
“He is known as being friendly, very knowledgeable, fair and well liked by his peers,” Jackson said in a speech supporting White’s nomination. “I have confidence that he has been well trained.”
Legislative Black Caucus chair: Caucus members announced Wednesday that they’ve chosen Sen. Angela Bryant, a Rocky Mount Democrat, to replace Rep. Garland Pierce as chair of the Legislative Black Caucus.
House Speaker’s Chief of Staff: Moore said Wednesday that he hasn’t yet chosen a permanent replacement for chief of staff Clayton Somers, who started a new job Monday at UNC-Chapel Hill as vice chancellor of public affairs and secretary of the university. The speaker said his general counsel, Bart Goodson, is serving as interim chief of staff.