Smithfield: Opinion

Party loses its voice

There is no stronger or smarter Democratic voice in the General Assembly – and perhaps in all of state government – than that of Rep. Rick Glazier of Fayetteville.

He soon will be gone, a major loss for a party struggling to maintain a smart, consistent opposition to Republicans who control the Legislature.

Glazier, an attorney, announced earlier this month that this legislative session would be his last, after 13 years representing Cumberland County in the 120-member House. He will become executive director of the N.C. Justice Center, a liberal think tank in Raleigh and one of the main antagonists to the Republican majority.

That organization’s gain is the legislative Democrats’ loss. Glazier has been at the forefront of most of his party’s main objections to the Republican majority on issues such as school vouchers, gay rights, gun laws and abortion rules. He has stood at the podium during many Democratic news conferences attacking GOP decisions on those and other issues. At the same time, he’s also one of few Democrats in recent years to be able to routinely work side by side with Republicans on important legislation, even as he carved them up on the House floor with powerful speeches when he didn’t agree on an issue.

This year, he’s worked with Republicans to pass bills increasing punishments for graffiti vandalism and altering the treatment of juveniles in the criminal justice system.

Even with Republicans in the majority in the General Assembly since the 2011 elections, Glazier has remained among the most effective House members, according to rankings from the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research. He ranked in the top five in 2007 and 2009, when Democrats still controlled the House. In 2013, he ranked 16th, the top Democrat.

Glazier’s previous experience as a school board member put him in a good position to advocate for the left on education issues. His experience as a lawyer helped him draft complicated language on many issues and make complex legal and constitutional arguments during floor debates on the most divisive issues. At times in committee meetings, Glazier appeared to be among the few legislators who had actually read bills up for discussion, then asked pointed questions about particulars and proposed amendments to make them better.

Upon announcing his pending resignation from the House, Glazier received a standing ovation from colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Top GOP leaders in the House issued statements praising him. House Speaker Tim Moore called him a “true friend.” “He stood firm for his convictions, yet was a key player in bipartisan negotiations in the House and will be missed by colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” Moore said.

The only negatives came from the state Republican Party, which took the opportunity to criticize the N.C. Justice Center rather than offer any nice words about Glazier. It was like a team that just lost a game leaving the field without shaking the opponents’ hands.

That move represented what is wrong with politics in North Carolina, while Glazier – even if you disagree wholeheartedly with his politics – is an example of what is right.

He’s a big loss for a party that can’t afford any more losses.

Patrick Gannon writes about state government and politics.