SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Speaker Struggle Under Way
With the election over, Democrats in the state House have begun to indicate publicly what many have known privately for weeks -- Jim Black is all but done as House speaker.
Some Democrats looking to replace Black as speaker still hedge their comments with phrases like "if Black doesn't have enough support."
The qualification is about like telling your spouse that you'll be buying a new car soon if your old Chevy keeps on acting up, and then purposely failing to change the oil.
Of course, Black may not even hold onto his legislative seat, making his candidacy as speaker the moot point that some of his fellow legislators believe state and federal investigations have already made it. Black led Republican Hal Jordan by seven votes before the counting of provisional ballots. Once election officials sort through those ballots, a recount is expected.
Regardless of how they couch it, more House Democrats are letting it be known that they are interested in replacing Black as speaker.
The latest potential candidates to acknowledge their ambitions publicly are House Majority Leader Joe Hackney of Orange County, former House Speaker Dan Blue of Wake County and Rep. Drew Saunders of Mecklenburg County.
Even before Black's fate appeared sealed, Reps. Hugh Holliman of Davidson County and Jim Crawford of Granville County had been doing some digging among their House colleagues for speaker votes.
Still, none of the five is an obvious favorite.
Hackney will derive benefits from the Democrats expanding their majority in the House, picking up as many as five additional seats. But although known as a pragmatist, Hackney's views tend to lean more liberal than House Democrats as a whole. He won't be embraced by the business community.
Blue returns to the House after a four-year absence, replacing the late Bernard Allen. Blue's absence came at a good time considering the ethics taint hanging over the House.
But Hackney and Blue candidacies could split the liberal members of the House caucus.
Saunders, a pro-business moderate, may find support from the same moderates who put Black in power. But his ties to Black could also undo him, making him look like the "business-as-usual" candidate. His now infamous "Baby Jesus" comments, made while criticizing proposed ethics reforms, won't soon be forgotten.
The best hope for Crawford, another pro-business type, may lie in Democratic division.
He has plenty of friends on the other side of the aisle, and could head up some type of Democrat-Republican coalition.
Holliman, meanwhile, may have hurt his chances by making his ambitions known too early. Doing so, he offended longtime Black allies.
There are plenty of astute, two- and three-term legislators -- some of them women -- who have been around long enough to understand how the place works but not so long as to be tainted by it all.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at email@example.com
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