SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Joe Hackney's Fine Balancing Act
Considering the shenanigans of his predecessor, it would be easy to get all warm and fuzzy when talking about state House Speaker Joe Hackney.
Hackney, though, isn't a warm and fuzzy kind of guy.
You wouldn't have known it listening on the House floor the other day. As the legislature readied to adjourn for the year and as Hackney completed his first two-year term leading the chamber, Democrats and Republicans chirped little songs of praise.
Most were directed at how he had run the place. He'd given Republicans a chance to have their say and hadn't cut them off. He'd treated their floor leader, Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam of Raleigh, with the kind of respect that someone heading the minority party should be given.
Within his own party, the 62-year-old Orange County lawyer had done what he had said he'd do: He allowed the full Democratic caucus to set the chamber's policy agenda.
One of the ways that former Speaker Jim Black, now serving a five-year prison sentence, got himself into trouble was setting the chamber's agenda himself when it suited his purposes.
It shouldn't have been surprising. Part of the power of being chamber leader is that ability to set that agenda.
The House speaker and Senate president pro tem assign bills to committee, and in those assignments they control the flow of legislation. Killing a bill can be as easy as sending it to the House or Senate Rules Committee, headed by a chamber leader's top lieutenant, and then leaving it there to die.
Hackney might have used that power on his own accord on a few occasions. He certainly was no fan of a Senate bill to repeal a law giving counties the ability to put land transfer taxes before voters, not after a Realtors group had spent $300,000 in his home county to defeat a referendum. And it never came up for a vote in the House.
Of course, Black's path to trouble didn't start or end by ramrodding legislation. His desire to keep himself and his party in power, at about any cost and using any means, had more to do with his downfall.
As the legislature neared adjournment, Hackney made an oblique reference to Black's misuse of power when he spoke of defending "the integrity of this House against all foes, domestic and foreign."
Hackney isn't the type to repeat those mistakes. He's a careful, reserved lawyer who says only a fraction of what he's thinking. If he didn't ride a motorcycle, you might describe him as bookish.
Prior to becoming speaker, a dumb question from a reporter was likely to elicit a withering stare. He doesn't suffer fools lightly, although he's learning. It's part of the job description.
But amid all the praise the other day, it would be easy to overlook that Joe Hackney is also fiercely partisan.
And balancing the roles of partisan leader, intent on keeping his party in power, and defender of chamber integrity isn't easy. Never has been. Never will be.
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