The NC General Assembly convened the 2017 legislative session Wednesday with traditional flair and form. Holding onto time-honored traditions is something the legislature does well, regardless of which party is in the majority.
In attendance were family and friends of the men and women elected to serve as representatives and senators. Absent were the unruly and those disrespectful to the institution and its proceedings.
Announcements in both the House and the Senate that the session had convened, the sight of dignitaries being escorted in, the singing of the national anthem, and more were all part of the pomp ushering in the next round of lawmaking in North Carolina. In the Senate chamber, the 8-year old granddaughter of Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) sang the nation anthem and did a remarkable job.
In the House, Stephanie Prestage sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” with gusto:
The formal roll call was taken in both chambers and members old and new affirmed their presence, as gathered friends and family watched and listened. Next came the swearing-in of the elected officials, pledging to uphold and defend the United States and North Carolina Constitutions.
Thursday morning, Speaker of the NC House of Representatives Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain) told me in an interview on the “What Matters in North Carolina” podcast that one cannot help being in awe at the moment. In a state of 10 million people, only 170 – 120 in the House and 50 in the Senate – are serving in the General Assembly.
Following the oaths of office for senators and representatives, elections were held for the top leadership positions in the respective chambers. Moore was reelected to lead the House unanimously to a second term, and in the Senate Berger was reelected to a fourth term as president pro tempore, also unanimously.
In his remarks to the Senate, Berger told his colleagues to prepare to work hard, and made note of the great sacrifices made by the families of those who serve.
— Jeffrey Warren, PhD (@DrJeffWarren) January 11, 2017
Noting the success that the state has had economically under conservative leadership, Berger said, “Now a thriving economy has generated more than 450,000 new jobs. The number of working North Carolinians has soared to historic highs, and median household income has jumped by close to $10,000 per household.”
Berger also laid out his priorities for the session: “We will continue to reduce taxes, improve education, and foster a better economic development climate.” He also said that the Senate is committed to raising average teacher pay to $55,000 over the next two years.
And in case anyone was thinking that his commitment to the conservative principles had waned, Berger said, “We will not under any circumstances return to the failed tax and spend policies of the past.”
In his remarks to the House, Moore said, “We want job creation and growth …To keep growing we must maintain our commitments to tax reform and relief, pass balanced budgets and cultivate a workforce that is career-ready in an increasingly innovative world.”
— Speaker Tim Moore (@NCHouseSpeaker) January 11, 2017
Moore also said, “It is my priority to work with each of you to make North Carolina the most competitive and prosperous state economy in the nation.”
A few items of housekeeping were then taken care of, with the appointment of Rep. David Lewis (R-Dunn) to another term as chairman of the House Rules Committee, and the election of Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Mt. Airy) to the position of House speaker pro tempore, replacing the now-retired Paul Stam.
Today was a good day.
— David R Lewis (@RepDavidRLewis) January 12, 2017
Longtime House Principal Clerk Denise Weeks has retired, and elected to replace her was James White, who worked with Weeks for several years. In the Senate, Sara Lang was reelected to another term as principal clerk. The clerks and their staffs make sure all proposed legislation flows correctly every day from being introduced to being assigned to a committee to being voted on by the House or Senate.
All in all, it was a regal day, with the appropriate fanfare to celebrate the beginning of a new legislative term. Now comes a two-week break, during which lawmakers are allowed to raise money from political action committees. Both Democrats and Republicans will avail themselves of this opportunity to fill their coffers, as they are prohibited from doing so while they are in session.
When they return to get down to work on January 25, there will be a flurry of bills being filed in both the House and Senate. Every member has something he or she would like to point as something tangible they did this year.
The pomp and circumstance will not be center stage again for a while at the General Assembly. But the business of the people will be, sometimes in bipartisan fashion, and sometimes in disagreement as to what is best.
Berger summarized the situation by saying, “No matter what our political party we are all here to help our state thrive and for our citizens to reach their full potential. It’s disheartening that some only want to focus on what divides us.”
Rest in Peace: Leroy “Lee” Settle, the Senate reading clerk. Lee passed away on December 25, 2016 at age 80.