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Republicans come roaring out of legislative box

RALEIGH — This new Republican legislative majority is in a hurry to show its stuff, prove its mettle.

The haste is understandable. Republicans have only been waiting 120 years or so to finally take control of the North Carolina General Assembly.

So on only the second day of the legislative session, the just-elected House and Senate leaders passed out gavels to new committee chairs and named new committees.

In the past, Democrats could take a few weeks to name committees and get organized for the two-year legislative session, then freshmen legislators could get lost in the maze that is the Legislative Building at least a few dozen times before their unfamiliarity made them late to a committee meeting.

More practically, Democrats waited to organize because of a recognition that nothing is set in stone until House and Senate leaders are chosen. They remember well Joe Mavretic and the House coup that toppled former Speaker Liston Ramsey. They remember Jim Black’s tenure as House speaker very nearly being undone before it began.

No such fireworks blossomed on this opening day. House Republicans stayed united behind Thom Tillis, Senate Republicans behind Phil Berger.

Tillis even got a few Democratic votes. Berger was elected by acclamation.

All that committee arranging and hiring of staff would not be for naught.

And so, the new Republican leaders hit the ground running.

Tillis talked of getting all the lawmaking and budgeting and new legislative map drawing finished by July 4 and then getting out of town. Berger tried to one-up Tillis. He said he wanted to finish the legislative year by the end of June.

Both men talked about quickly pursuing some GOP campaign promises: requiring picture IDs for voters, lifting a cap on charter schools, passing legislation to try to block the federal health care reform law’s individual insurance mandate.

Just 24 hours after Tillis and Berger had been elected chamber leaders, Republicans and Democrats in a House committee were barking at each other over the federal health care reform law.

House Majority Leader Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, called the individual mandate requiring health insurance a government intrusion. Former House Speaker Joe Hackney, D-Orange, already looking comfortable in his new attack dog role as minority leader, growled that Republicans were attempting to force those with health care insurance to foot the bill for those who go without.

Nothing wrong with Republicans pursuing their agenda. Nothing wrong with them getting to work quickly.

Lawmaking, though, isn’t putting together widgets on an assembly line. Legislatures are called deliberative bodies for a reason.

Sometimes pushing too far, too fast can create missteps that you don’t truly appreciate until another election season rolls around.

Scott Mooneyham writes about North Carolina politics for the Capitol Press Association.

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