Bucker Leaves With Party Riding High
Some years ago, Harold Brubaker described his second term as speaker of the North Carolina House as carting around a wheelbarrow full of frogs.
"One would jump out. I'd stop, put him back in, and one or two more would jump out," Brubaker told me at the time.
It was one of those great analogies that stick in the mind of a reporter. Brubaker was describing what it was like to lead a legislative chamber in which his Republican Party enjoyed only a two-seat majority in the 120-member House.
Brubaker, 65, recently announced that he was retiring from the House, giving up the seat that he has held for 36 years.
He does so as a historic figure in North Carolina politics, becoming in 1995 the first Republican in a century to lead a legislative chamber in the state.
His ascendancy to that position served as final confirmation that North Carolina had become a true two-party state, coming after the election of two GOP governors, Jim Holshouser and Jim Martin, and during Jesse Helms' reign as one of the state's two U.S. senators.
That four-year stint as House speaker came when Republicans across the country swept to power, riding a wave of voter discontent while supporting a "Contract With America."
For better or worse, the GOP's success was also the result of Brubaker and his allies' embrace of a different approach to legislative campaigning, one involving more central control of fundraising and spending so that competitive, swing districts could receive the focus and the money.
Today, it is the campaign template for both political parties in both legislative chambers.
In announcing his retirement from the legislature, Brubaker said that he had, from the beginning of his legislative career back in 1976, hoped to become House speaker.
No one would have given him much of a chance back then.
A Pennsylvania native, he was one of just a handful of Republicans elected to the legislature that year, with the GOP taking a beating as a result of the Watergate scandal.
But even in the decade before, Republicans typically held less than four dozen of the 170 seats in the General Assembly.
By the 1990s, the margins were vastly different, and control of the House shifted back and forth between the two parties.
With Republicans gaining control of the chamber again in the 2010 elections, Brubaker took on a new role: House senior budget-writer.
Of course, Republicans have made much of putting together a balanced budget without tax hikes, and Brubaker has said one of his chief accomplishments over the past two years was putting the state on a sound financial path.
The truth is that neither Democrats nor Republicans get much enjoyment out of cobbling together state budgets in tough economic times. I suspect that Brubaker was no different.
What he is doing - as he told the Associated Press - is going out on top.
And who would have thought that in 1976?
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at email@example.com.
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