In an unusual move announced Wednesday, state Rep. Paul Tine of Kitty Hawk is changing his party affiliation from Democrat to unaffiliated in hopes of getting more done for his district in the upcoming legislative session, which begins next week.
Tine, a 43-year-old insurance company owner, would become the only unaffiliated member of the General Assembly. He said Wednesday in an interview with the Insider that he also hoped to participate in Republican House caucus meetings throughout the session, meaning he would have a front-row seat as the GOP majority discussed proposed legislation and other issues behind closed doors. House Republicans are expected to decide Friday whether to allow him to participate, but the House leadership is on board and the vote appears to be a formality.
His switch to unaffiliated would leave Democrats with only 45 of 120 seats in the House.
Tine said he believed siding with Republicans would help him better represent his district and be part of shaping legislation rather than reacting to it. He begins his second House term next week, representing four counties in eastern North Carolina – Dare, Hyde, Washington and part of Beaufort. He said the district has significant poverty, transportation and education issues, along with high homeowners’ insurance rates.
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“As an independent that is working with the Republican majority, I think I can get more done for a district that needs a lot of attention,” he said.
Tine, who has been a registered Democrat since age 18, considers himself fiscally conservative and a moderate legislator who believes government should stay out of people’s lives as much as possible. He expressed disenchantment with the state Democratic Party, which lost legislative majorities four years ago and since then has had well-documented troubles in leadership and in trying to win back state legislative seats. Tine suggested the party has increasingly moved to the left and that he no longer feels at home there.
“I have always been and will continue to be a centrist that puts my district and my state first,” he said. “I really just didn’t see that our party had learned the lessons that the people tried to tell us over the past three election cycles, that we weren’t really giving them the policy and the ideas that they’re looking for.”
Tine also made it clear that he wouldn’t change who he is, despite the change in affiliation. He anticipates some tension with the more conservative members of the Republican caucus, like he had with more liberal Democrats.
“I still believe in public education. I still believe in early education,” he said. “We have to expand Medicaid, for no other reason than our rural hospitals continue to close. I have been to some degree a pain in the side of the Democrats. I told them I’m going to be a pain in the side of Republicans, too.”
Democrats expressed disappointment. “Representative Tine previously worked in our Caucus on many critical issues, like protecting Common Core and advocating for rural North Carolina, among other issues,” Rep. Larry Hall of Durham, the minority leader, said in a statement. “While it is disappointing that he waited until after he was reelected as a Democrat to reveal his decision, we will continue working with everyone committed to moving North Carolina forward.”
Tine said that he didn’t know whether his decision would hurt him politically in the long run but that it was the best decision for today.
“This could be political suicide. It could be the end of my career,” he said. “Or maybe people might be looking for this type of voice and might rally.”