Newly minted North Carolina House Majority Leader Rep. John Bell (R-Wayne) takes exception with some who question his commitment to conservative principles. In an appearance on “What Matters in North Carolina” Friday, September 2, Bell told the radio show’s audience, “I’d like for those folks to sit down and talk with me and they’ll realize that’s not the case at all.”
The resignation from the NC House of Representatives of Mike Hager, (R-Rutherford) left not only his seat in the House to fill, but also the position of majority leader. The Republican House members voted on Aug. 30 for Bell as their new leader. They also voted to fill Bell’s previous position as House majority whip with Rep. Dean Arp (R-Monroe). Critics wasted little time in questioning Bell’s conservatism.
Bell responded on “What Matters” by saying, “That’s a tough pill to swallow for me, because I do believe I’m conservative. There’s always going to be naysayers out there, there’s always going to be people that I’ve learned you can’t make happy. But, I feel like I’ve got a good record in the General Assembly. I feel like I have a conservative record in the General Assembly, and if those folks would like to sit down and talk with me and look at issues and address some issues, I’d be more than happy to do that.”
With the November elections a little over two months away, Bell says he is ready to help his colleagues retain their majority and possibly even supermajority in the House. Some pundits have highlighted seven or eight seats that may be difficult for the House Republicans to maintain. Bell said, “We’re going to do everything in our power. We’re not going to give up a seat. We’re not going to concede a seat. We’re going to fight for every inch of ground that we have.”
Bell also said, “We have to clearly communicate to the voters what we’ve done. When we [Republicans] came into [control of] the General Assembly, [North Carolina] had a $3 billion deficit, a $600 million shortfall in Medicaid, regulations were completely out of control, we had the highest tax rate in the Southeast. Now let’s look at where we’re out today. In six short years, North Carolina is consistently being labeled as the best place to do business. People want to come to North Carolina.”
While acknowledging that it is not going to be easy to maintain a supermajority in the House, Bell said that if the GOP can communicate what has been done over the last six years, “People will understand, they’ll get it.”
Calling this possibly the most important election of our lives, Bell said that both nationally and in North Carolina there are fundamental differences in the direction that the country and the state should go. “I think once they hear our story, not only will they support what our Republican majority has done, they’ll support our conservative judges, and we’ll continue to move forward,” said Bell. “This is going to be a battleground state. We’re going to have a tremendous amount of outside money coming into North Carolina, and if people do not go vote, we’re going to be in trouble. But, if people do go vote and say they like the direction we’re going, at the end of the day, then I think we’ll be very successful.”
At the final few months of what is his second term, and in a campaign to win a third, Bell has made a meteoric rise through the ranks of leadership in the NC House. He attributes his success to the changes that have taken place in the House, allowing younger members the opportunity to move into leadership positions. Bell said that learning how to work together and listen, and having a core set of values, are part of what he brings to the table, and that he hopes the members of the Republican caucus see that and remember why they elected him to be the majority leader.
The shoes that Mike Hager left to fill are pretty big. But Bell sounds confident. Citing principles and morals that have guided him even before he entered politics, Bell says he understands how things get done in the legislature. “One hundred and twenty of us in that building are not always going to agree on every single thing,” he said. But by being reasonable and willing to listen, Bell hopes to provide leadership that will be effective in continuing the success that conservative government is bringing to North Carolina.