A fissure among House Republicans at the North Carolina legislature has re-emerged as candidates start filing for the 2016 elections, particularly one between the chamber leadership and hardline conservatives.
A critic of House Speaker Tim Moore took an unusual tack last week while announcing his re-election plans in a news release. Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly, wrote a two-page missive blasting Moore’s leadership, accusing him of “resorting to the old style of dirty politics” and consolidating power in the hands of “his personal friends and a number of House Democrats.”
In an interview, Burr said Moore was reversing gains of transparency and efficiency under previous House Speaker Thom Tillis, now in the U.S. Senate. Burr blames Moore for the longest annual work session since 2001.
“Under the leadership of the current House speaker, we have seen the House’s productivity and accomplishments reach an all-time low,” Burr said in his release.
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Moore, R-Cleveland, shot back at Burr, who was one of Moore’s rivals to succeed Tillis late last year. Moore called Burr’s complaints “nothing more than a temper tantrum.” He and allied Republicans contend they carried out a full agenda during the session’s 8 1 / 2 months.
“Rep. Burr has chosen to make himself ineffective and irrelevant by his own volition, and frankly the voters of his district deserve better,” Moore said in an interview. Burr accuses Moore of a “whisper campaign” designed to defeat him in the March 15 primary.
Burr’s news release exposes discomfort some House Republicans have with Moore, who was previously House rules chairman under Tillis.
Burr is among between roughly 10 to 20 Republicans – depending on the issue – who opposed key fiscal legislation backed by the GOP leadership this year, including the state budget and a $2 billion bond package. That opposition can be just enough to deny a majority from the GOP alone, forcing him to seek Democratic support. Republicans hold 74 of the chamber’s 120 seats.
Rep. Charles Jeter, R-Mecklenburg, chairman of the House Republican Conference, acknowledged the back-and-forth as an “internal family squabble” among the House Republican Caucus and wishes this fight had been kept private.
There are probably just as many House Republicans who wished the General Assembly had taken a more moderate approach, Jeter said. He doesn’t consider these various differences a problem that could implode the caucus, which he said was “overwhelming supportive” of the legislature’s 2015 accomplishments.
“Republicans have disagreements among themselves,” Jeter said Friday, but “our caucus is unified in making sure North Carolina is the absolute best that we can be.”
Burr’s comments, however, could be perceived as fighting words, especially when suggesting in his release Moore was returning to days reminiscent of former House speakers Jim Black and Richard Morgan. Morgan entered a power-sharing agreement with Democrats in 2003. Black ultimately went to federal prison in a political corruption case.
Burr said it took ally and House Majority Leader Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, to step in to force more debate within the House caucus on big issues. Hager, Burr and 19 other conservatives ultimately put out a statement backing the final budget.
But Moore said “we have worked really hard to try to include everybody in the process,” and that the public wants Democrats and Republicans working together.
“The voters are tired of party infighting,” the speaker said. “That’s not what we were sent to Raleigh for.”
Burr, who at age 30 already has served seven years in the House, said he’s only thinking now about getting re-elected to his district and dismissed a question about running for speaker again next year. When Burr ran a year ago, he indirectly criticized Tillis, too, vowing to give committee chairmen more independence than before. Moore said he’s done that.
The General Assembly reconvenes in late April.