RALEIGH — The North Carolina General Assembly opened to script Wednesday, with Republicans still squarely in charge of the legislature, electing their top officers without a challenge and leaders keeping to conservative themes and calls to work together.
The House elected Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, as speaker for the next two years by a voice vote and without opposition from Democrats. That pattern played out later when Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, was elected Senate president pro tempore, a position he’s served in since 2011 when GOP lawmakers took majorities in both chambers simultaneously for the first time in 140 years.
“Make no mistake — there is more to be done,” Berger, an Eden lawyer, said while ticking off legislative accomplishments since 2011 such as education reforms and a tax overhaul. “It is a great responsibility as we enter our third full session of implementing a new direction for North Carolina.”
Moore, the former House Rules Committee chairman, said many challenges loomed that could best be met by working across the aisle.
“The answers are never Republican or Democratic answers but North Carolina answers, North Carolina solutions,” Moore told House members, attending the one-day session with family members for their swearings-in.
Moore succeeds Thom Tillis, who is now a U.S. senator but attended Wednesday’s session. Tillis handed a gavel to Moore on the speaker’s dais after Moore was sworn in by Supreme Court Associate Justice Paul Newby.
Despite slight delays due to the winter weather, both chambers adjourned by lunch. Lawmakers don’t reconvene until Jan. 28, when they begin filing bills and debating in earnest.
Medicaid reform, raising the minimum teacher salary to at least $35,000 and looking for new municipal revenue sources are expected to be among leading issues in the 2015 work period. They also must approve a state budget through mid-2017.
Moore and Berger suggested the next two years may be a departure from the previous four where big splashes were made on tax and education overhauls and on social issues. “I think we’re at a position now where we can focus on governing, actually moving forward on managing the affairs of state,” Moore told reporters.
Gov. Pat McCrory was on a trade trip to Britain and didn’t attend this year’s opening as he did two years ago. He will consider whether to ask the legislature to expand Medicaid to more of the uninsured. Narrowing a transportation funding gap for the next 25 years also is among his goals.
Both Berger and Moore remain skeptical about Medicaid expansion. “There is in my view no good case that can be made that Medicaid expansion is the right thing for us to do in North Carolina,” Berger said.
Republicans hold 74 of the 120 House seats, with one Democrat switching to unaffiliated voter registration also caucusing with House Republicans. The GOP holds 34 of the 50 Senate seats.
Democratic leaders said they didn’t offer candidates for speaker and Senate leader for a reason.
“Everything was done in unanimity because we want to be part of the solution,” said Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, particularly on bringing economic recovery to the middle class.
About 20 first-time legislators were seated, many brimming with optimism about the session ahead.
“We all have one seat. We all get a vote. I also have a voice, so my constituents can certainly be heard,” said Rep. Gale Adcock, D-Wake, a former Cary Town Council member.