State Politics

Retirements shake up General Assembly

Republican Senators Phil Berger, President Pro Tempore, left, and Tom Apodaca, right, head to an afternoon session of the Senate Conference Committee on S.B. 744, Appropriations Act of 2014 Committee at the N.C. General Assembly's Legislative Office Building on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 in Raleigh, N.C.
Republican Senators Phil Berger, President Pro Tempore, left, and Tom Apodaca, right, head to an afternoon session of the Senate Conference Committee on S.B. 744, Appropriations Act of 2014 Committee at the N.C. General Assembly's Legislative Office Building on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 in Raleigh, N.C. clowenst@newsobserver.com

The next time the General Assembly assembles, in January barring unforeseen circumstances, at least 20 current members will not be among them.

That’s how many legislators decided not to run again this year, some of them after brief service and others after decades of experience playing key roles shaping today’s North Carolina.

That’s seven departures in the 50-member state Senate and 13 in the 120-member House. While mostly Republican, redistricting leaves most of their seats in GOP hands and so significant party realignment isn’t likely.

Among the departees are Sen. Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville, who as Rules Committee chairman has been Senate leader Phil Berger’s top lieutenant; Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews, who led the charge to rewrite the tax code and redraw congressional and legislative districts; Sen. Fletcher Hartsell of Concord, a 13-term, moderate Republican who left with a hearty round of applause despite just having been indicted for campaign finance violations; Rep. Leo Daughtry of Smithfield, an expert in crime and courts, and Paul “Skip” Stam of Apex, a lightning rod for conservative social issues.

“We are losing quite a bit of legislative power and brain power and character and expertise,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a six-term Cary Republican, on the House floor on the last night of session July 1. “You’ll all be sorely missed.”

Departure speeches and tributes were scattered throughout the final day, with references ranging from the “Wizard of Oz” to James Taylor to legislative clichés.

Daughtry, a one-time candidate for governor who served as both majority and minority leader during his 26 years in office, told his colleagues that serving in the General Assembly had been addictive and, like buying and selling stocks, it was hard to know when to sell.

“When I leave here part of my soul will be left in this place,” Daughtry said. “I’ve seen people here who – they’ve been here too long. I don’t want to smell like three-day-old fish.”

Daughtry embarked on a long story about his recovery plan, which entails exchanging legislative jargon with his wife to ease the transition: She will begin each conversation with “I’ll be brief.” Then he will say, “I didn’t intend to speak on that subject.”

Subsequent exchanges will include the phrases: “You are too much in the weeds.” “I will drill down.” “Have you really moved the needle or not?” “Another tool in the toolbox.” “Let’s kick the can down the road.”

All painfully familiar expressions to the crowd on Jones Street.

Rep. Roger West, who has represented the four westernmost counties in the state since 2000, closes out a tenure whose legacy is marked by repeated attempts to keep the annual New Year’s Eve Brasstown Possum Drop one step ahead of PETA.

Rep. John Blust, a Republican from Greensboro, noted that West owns a land-clearing business that reflects his behind-the-scenes forcefulness.

“Some people think the Sahara’s a desert,” Blust said. “It is now because Roger’s finished with it.”

Rep. Duane Hall, a Raleigh Democrat, referred to the business successes of West and Daughtry, a lawyer with various commercial interests.

“I rise with grave concerns about the financial health of this body,” Hall said. “With the loss of both Leo and Roger West this body is about to lose about 90 percent of its net worth.”

House principal clerk Denise Weeks, who has retired after 23 years in the position, was also fondly remembered as the force who kept everyone in line.

Stam gave his colleagues a simple piece of advice: Sometimes the best thing you can do is kill a bad bill. And with that, Stam – known as an orator with frequent references to Latin and the Magna Carta, and a mentor to the many legislators he recruited – had a concise goodbye.

“Au revoir,” he said.

Staff writer Craig Jarvis and Patrick Gannon of The Insider

Send tips to dome@newsobserver.com.

Who is leaving?

Sen. Tom Apodaca, Republican from Hendersonville

Sen. Buck Newton, Republican from Wilson (running for attorney general)

Sen. Bob Rucho, Republican from Matthews

Sen. Stan Bingham, Republican from Denton

Sen. Dan Soucek, Republican from Boone (resigned before session ended)

Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, Republican from Concord

Sen. Josh Stein, Democrat from Raleigh (resigned before session ended to run for attorney general)

Rep. Leo Daughtry, Republican from Smithfield

Rep. Paul Stam, Republican from Apex

Rep. James H. Langdon Jr., Republican from Angier

Rep. Nathan Baskerville, Democrat from Henderson

Rep. Dan Bishop, Republican from Charlotte (running for state Senate; one of the prime sponsors of HB2)

Rep. Rayne Brown, Republican from Lexington

Rep. Rick Catlin, Republican from Wilmington

Rep. Tricia Cotham, Democrat from Matthews

Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer, Republican from Charlotte (resigned before the session ended)

Rep. Paul Tine, unaffiliated from Kitty Hawk

Rep. Ken Waddell, Democrat from Chadbourn

Rep. Roger West, Republican from Marbles

Rep. Chris Whitmire, Republican from Rosman

They left us with some numbers to think about

7: Retiring senators

13: Retiring House members

1: Lawmakers indicted in 2016 (Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Concord)

37: Bills pending on Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk

1: Bills vetoed by McCrory (2016) (coal ash regulation)

235: Pages in the 2016-17 budget bill

19: House Democrats who voted for the budget compromise

2: Senate Democrats who voted for the budget compromise

16: Bills related to license plates (2015-16 session)

24.6: The percent Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, voted against the majority (2015-16 session)

4: House members who made 100 percent of their eligible votes

2,053: Bills filed (2015-16 session)

370: Session laws (2015-16)

181: Senate session days (2015-16)

176: House session days (2015-16)

6: Percent Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Lon Cecil received in a June Public Policy Polling survey

90: Press releases from Gov. Pat McCrory (non-campaign) from April 25 to July 1, according to governor.nc.gov

829: Edits to the Wikipedia House Bill 2 page, created March 24

500: In dollars, tuition per semester at three state universities starting in 2018

478,000: Dollars in budget for Zika virus mosquito surveillance

4.7: Percent average raises for public school teachers

250,000: Dollars in budget to address “food deserts”

From The Insider state government news service

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