WPTF Features

NC Lawmakers Greeted By Another Newcomer: McCrory

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- The leadership for the new North Carolina General Assembly session is now set.

The House convened at midday Wednesday and elected Rep. Thom Tillis of Cornelius as speaker for a second two-year term. There were no other candidates for the job. Rep. Paul Stam of Apex also was elected speaker pro tempore by a voice vote.

The Senate met earlier Wednesday and chose Sen. Phil Berger of Eden for another two years as Senate leader and Sen. Louis Pate of Mount Olive as deputy Senate leader.

New Gov. Pat McCrory sat in the gallery of each chamber to watch the proceedings.

The Legislature will adjourn its one-day organizational session and return Jan. 30 to begin the legislative year in earnest.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

The opening of the two-year General Assembly session Wednesday brought together dozens of newly elected legislators and another newcomer to state government: Gov. Pat McCrory.

McCrory watched front and center from the Senate gallery as senators surrounded by family members took the oath of office and elected leaders and listened to speeches. The new governor said he made the rare visit by a chief executive to the Legislative Building to honor legislators and to begin building a relationship with his new partners in state government.

McCrory's arrival in Raleigh - he was sworn in last weekend - marks the first time Republicans controlled both chambers of the Legislature and the Executive Mansion in more than 140 years.

"This is going to have to be a team effort to fix some of the serious problems that we have in the state," McCrory told reporters after the Senate unanimously elected Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, for a second term.

The House was expected to meet at midday to swear in its members and elect Rep. Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, to a second term as speaker. The General Assembly will then adjourn until Jan. 30

McCrory's visit was unusual. Recent Democratic Govs. Mike Easley and Beverly Perdue rarely visited the legislative complex beyond giving the State of the State address, let alone on opening day. But McCrory and Republican legislative leaders have talked about working together and avoiding the rancor that symbolized divided government during the past two years.

McCrory planned to visit late Wednesday morning with Senate Democrats and had already met with House Democrats besides the Republican caucuses. McCrory said he's been talking with legislators about short-term problems that need to be fixed.

The former Charlotte mayor has mentioned repeatedly resolving issues in the Department of Health and Human Services and eliminating more quickly the state's $2.5 billion in debt to the federal government owed to pay unemployment benefits. The Legislature also will consider early finding more money to deal with housing issues for mentally ill and developmentally disabled.

Berger said McCrory's appearance indicates "we want to work together and try to solve the problems that we have in the state of North Carolina."

In his acceptance speech, Berger urged colleagues to build on what the new Republican majority did in the past two years on lower taxes, less regulation and the start of education reform. Berger said taxes on working families were still too high and regulations on businesses too cumbersome. He also suggested he would seek again to eliminate tenure for veteran teachers. A similar effort fell short in 2012.

"While we are committed to rewarding and recognizing our best teachers, no teacher should be guaranteed a job if they fail in their responsibility to educate our children," Berger said.

In a reference to the public's frustration with national politics, Berger told fellow Republicans they must show everyone there's a "real difference between a Washington Republican and a North Carolina Republican. North Carolina Republicans deliver! We kept our word. And we act on the promises we've made."

Wednesday's one-day organizational session was a first for the Legislature and allowed lawmakers and their families to focus more upon the pomp of a new session, which included color guards, Supreme Court justices administering the oaths and fidgety children and grandchildren on the House floor.

The day also marked Lt. Gov. Dan Forest's first day as the Senate's presiding officer. Forest, a Republican, won the job in November.

More than 50 House and Senate members are new to the 170-member Legislature, reflecting a branch of government that has seen tremendous turnover since 2010, the last time Democrats controlled the two chambers. Redistricting and retirements have accelerated the transition to Republican supremacy.

Republicans now hold or control 77 of the House's 120 seats, a net increase of nine seats over the 2011-12 session, and 33 of the 50 Senate seats, or a new increase of two.



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