Dozens of candidates signed up to run for state House and Senate seats on the opening day of filing season Tuesday, but none made a bigger splash than Rep. Justin Burr, an Albemarle Republican.
In announcing his re-election bid in a two-page press release posted to Twitter and Facebook, Burr, a four-term lawmaker, made clear his dissatisfaction with House Speaker Tim Moore.
“Rather than build on the success of former Speaker Thom Tillis, the current speaker has chosen to return to days reminiscent of the unsuccessful and toxic governing style of former House Speakers Jim Black and Richard Morgan,” Burr wrote of Moore, a Cleveland County Republican who presided over the House for this year’s session.
Burr, never mentioning Moore by name, wrote that the “current Speaker” marginalized House conservatives and instead “aligned himself with a small group of his personal friends and a number of House Democrats.” Burr wrote that he believes the power in the House has been consolidated in the hands of four or five members “pushing an agenda that does not align with the Republican’s promises to be efficient and effective with the taxpayers’ dollars.”
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In a phone interview, he named Reps. David Lewis of Harnett County, Nelson Dollar of Wake County and Jason Saine of Lincoln County as members of Moore’s inner circle.
Moore said in a phone interview he plans to seek the speakership for the 2017-18 session if he’s re-elected to his House seat. He deemed Burr “disgruntled” and said he was disappointed in his comments.
“They’re not reflective of the reality,” Moore said. “Rep. Burr has chosen to make himself ineffective and irrelevant this entire session.”
Asked to elaborate, Moore added: “He’s simply not been engaged in the process. I think the folks in his district deserve better than that.”
Burr said he and other House Republicans “attempted in good faith” to work with House leadership at the start of session, but weren’t successful.
“We weren’t listened to,” he said. “When we disagreed with him, it only made things worse. And many members are afraid to speak out.”
Burr voted with the House Republican majority more than 92 percent of the time this year – a figure that mirrors the voting statistics for House Majority Leader Mike Hager. But while Burr was a co-chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee under Tillis, Moore appointed him to co-chair the less desirable Capital Appropriations Committee this session.
Moore said a handful of House Republicans “complain a lot.” “That’s their right to complain,” he said. “But for the most part, most members are engaged in trying to solve problems.”
It’s not the first time Burr has criticized a House speaker. Tillis, who Burr seemed to praise in his press release on Tuesday, was the target of complaints in a letter from Burr to House colleagues as Burr ran for speaker against Moore and other House Republicans before the 2015 session.
Burr wrote at that time that “any top-down approach in the House must end,” and instead the power should be spread among members. “Even a tethered dog thinks he has ‘freedom’ until he reaches the end of his chain, and I want to remove the five-foot chain that has been put on our committee chairs and our caucus,” he wrote.
Moore said Burr’s comments are “inconsistent.” He said he’s worked hard to make sure all members are empowered and given committee chairmen flexibility.
“I think things are actually running quite well,” Moore said. “I’m sorry he feels the way he does. I’m not hearing that from other members.”
Burr said Tuesday that Tillis ran the caucus much better and that every speaker can do more to empower individual members. Meanwhile, Burr drew a primary challenger Tuesday, Lane O. Burris.
Moore said he is busy traveling around the state raising money for the Republican House Caucus. “My press release will probably read a little bit differently than Rep. Burr’s,” he said.
Moore plans to file for re-election to the House on Wednesday.