Legislature's Words Didn't Mean Much
With a new year beginning, here's some advice for the Democrats of the state House: Go study your Senate counterparts.
And here's some advice for Republicans of the state House: Go study your Senate counterparts.
As 2012 began, Democrats publicly took stock of their yearlong performance in their new role as the minority party in the North Carolina General Assembly.
In comments to The News & Observer of Raleigh, House Democrats sounded as fractured as ever, with some saying that what was needed was more fight, and others calling for more compromise with their GOP colleagues.
In a critique of Democrats from the other side of the aisle, House Majority Leader Paul "Skip" Stam, a Wake County Republican, said he expected more procedural maneuvering from the opposition party.
What actually occurred, as Republicans plowed through piles of major public policy changes, were long-winded, pleading and occasionally shrill speeches by House Democrats that never changed anyone's mind.
Early on, some House Democrats seemed as if they had missed that salient point determined in November 2010: They lost.
Not that Stam's suggestion would have changed anything either.
Procedural rules in legislatures always favor the majority party, as they should. For those in the majority party, it has never been too difficult to keep from being maneuvered into politically damaging votes. Substitute motions or motions to make amendments "lie upon the table" allow legislative majorities to almost always outmaneuver the minority party.
Over the Senate, the chamber's Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt made clear back in January that he could do the math.
"They're supposed to win. It's their turn," Nesbitt said at the time.
So, in the Senate, as legislators debated bills, Democrats typically made a few points and moved on. They didn't sound embittered by their daily beatings.
And unlike in the House, Senate Republicans didn't feel compelled to answer every Democratic complaint point by point. When you're in charge, you've counted noses and you're going to win, that kind of debate becomes a bit superfluous.
Senate Republicans also didn't waste time spinning their wheels over legislation going nowhere.
The real lesson for both sides in 2011 was that, with a Democratic governor wielding veto power and no veto-proof majority in the House, party unity or lack thereof was critical when it came to the passage of controversial legislation.
Gov. Beverly Perdue's veto of legislation to block a GOP effort to challenge the federal health care law, and a failed override attempt, led to an obvious Republican pause and a bit of uncertainty for a while.
If Democrats were taken aback by Republicans' no-holds-barred approach to legislation, Republicans were surprised by Perdue's willingness to pull out her veto stamp.
Later on, House Speaker Thom Tillis' ability to enlist a handful of Democrats to support a GOP-penned budget proved critical in avoiding a protracted budget fight.
In each instance, actions and not words carried the day.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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