Thursday, September 15, 2011

State House Speaker Thom Tillis in revealing candid interview with Star-News.


House Speaker Thom Tillis holds a town hall meeting on Aug. 19, 2011, in New Bern. (AP Photo/The New Bern Sun Journal, Nick Mathews)

Verne Strickland Blogmaster / September 15, 2011

By Patrick Gannon
Patrick.Gannon@StarNewsOnline.com


The Tillis Legislative Townhall Meeting rolled into Wilmington today to hold court with constituents in an open forum at Cape Fear Community College.

In an advance interview, the StarNews asked House Speaker Thom Tillis questions about his future, the recent legislative session and a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman, among other issues. Here are the questions and answers:

 

 StarNews: Why did you decide to do town halls across the state?

Tillis: It's really to provide a more direct communication with the citizens and to really give them an opportunity to understand things. There's never enough print or airtime to talk about the mechanics of certain things, to really explain to them how the budget process worked … how the veto process worked … how we did have bipartisan cooperation on a lot of key measures.

StarNews: Was this at all an attempt to counter criticism over recent salary increases to your staff?

(Note: Tillis was criticized earlier this year for giving members of his staff raises as the General Assembly eliminated thousands of jobs in the state budget).

Tillis: Interestingly enough, at probably only two of the events that question has come up. It was really a part of a suggestion from our communications folks to kind of get out there and continue to communicate after we get out of session. Historically, what happens is we go into session and then we go away. There is a nine-month lull, except for people back in their districts. This is just a better way to continue communicating.…

StarNews: From A through F, how would you rate your job performance in your first long session as speaker?

Tillis: If I'm rating our legislature's results – not me as an individual, but what we accomplished in the legislative session – I'd give it an "A." And the reason for that, it was short, the shortest since 1973. By all accounts, the most productive since they've been keeping legislative records in terms of the number of matters that we actually took up that were ultimately ratified and became law. And thirdly, because we had some pretty sweeping reforms that past legislators that arguably had more leadership experience failed to get done. And I'm talking about bipartisan measures like annexation reform, workers' compensation reform, regulatory reform, medical malpractice reform, general tort reform and redistricting.

StarNews: If you are re-elected in 2012, would you want to be speaker again?

Tillis: Yeah, I would. I would absolutely run for speaker. It will be my last term in the legislature, and I would run again. I was the co-sponsor of a bill to limit the terms of speaker for two consecutive terms. I've personally term-limited myself out anyway, so I will be leaving the legislature.

StarNews: Do you think a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage could negatively impact economic development efforts or dissuade some businesses from opening here, as opponents of the measure have suggested?


Tillis: Interestingly enough, at probably only two of the events that question has come up. It was really a part of a suggestion from our communications folks to kind of get out there and continue to communicate after we get out of session. Historically, what happens is we go into session and then we go away. There is a nine-month lull, except for people back in their districts. This is just a better way to continue communicating.…

StarNews: From A through F, how would you rate your job performance in your first long session as speaker?

Tillis: If I'm rating our legislature's results – not me as an individual, but what we accomplished in the legislative session – I'd give it an "A." And the reason for that, it was short, the shortest since 1973. By all accounts, the most productive since they've been keeping legislative records in terms of the number of matters that we actually took up that were ultimately ratified and became law. And thirdly, because we had some pretty sweeping reforms that past legislators that arguably had more leadership experience failed to get done. And I'm talking about bipartisan measures like annexation reform, workers' compensation reform, regulatory reform, medical malpractice reform, general tort reform and redistricting.

StarNews: If you are re-elected in 2012, would you want to be speaker again?

Tillis: Yeah, I would. I would absolutely run for speaker. It will be my last term in the legislature, and I would run again. I was the co-sponsor of a bill to limit the terms of speaker for two consecutive terms. I've personally term-limited myself out anyway, so I will be leaving the legislature.
StarNews: Do you think a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage could negatively impact economic development efforts or dissuade some businesses from opening here, as opponents of the measure have suggested? 
Tillis: I think one thing that seems to be lost on everybody is that this is already the law, and it was also a law that was supported by and voted on by (former) Speaker (Joe) Hackney, (D-Orange). …If he genuinely believes it's a jobs impact, why hasn't he proposed a bill that would repeal the current law? All this does is set a different threshold for repealing that law at some point, and it provides a bulkhead against activist judges that may try to repeal it and become the 121st legislator.

StarNews: Do you believe there are enough votes in the House to put that amendment on a ballot next year?

Tillis: There are a couple of permutations going around that have to do with the dates and the language. My own personal interest is to make sure the language is clear so that if there was any risk that the business community would view this negatively or preventing them from being able to have a competitive position, then my own instructions to the members who are working on the language is that we have to be very clear there. I would not want any interpretation that would cause this somehow to be construed as constraining businesses, so they're working on the language. There's discussions going on about the timing of the referendum, whether it happens in May or November. All of those things are being sorted out as we speak.

StarNews: There has been some criticism lately on Republicans focusing on issues such as the marriage amendment while the unemployment rate is increasing. What is your response to that criticism?

Tillis: I would say that the reason we did the constitutional session was precisely to avoid the risk of distraction while we were in the main session. And I think again the results speak for themselves. We've cut $1.5 billion in taxes, we cut the scope of government and we passed five of the most sweeping reform measures that directly relate to the economic conditions and job creation over any legislature that I've heard anyone report back in the past 20 years.

StarNews: It looks like Southport area residents have already killed a proposed annexation and Monkey Junction residents near Wilmington are well on their way to doing the same. What do you say to the cities that stand to lose the opportunity to annex?

Tillis: I think if 60 percent of the property owners have spoken and said there is no value being provided to us, that the towns have more work to do to convince them that there's a value to the annexation. That's fundamentally what the reform law was all about.… Some of this is a direct result of an inappropriate use of power in the past, not necessarily out of Wilmington or anywhere east. But of the 550 or so municipalities across this state, I've been presented with several examples of annexations that were just absolutely inappropriate. They were taking of property, submission of the tax bill and no meaningful value being provided back to that new annexed property. And that's what the annexation reform bill fixed.

Patrick Gannon: (919) 854-6115
On Twitter: @StarNewsPat