Tillis started his political career as a city councilor in Cornelius, a wealthy suburb of Charlotte. In 2006, after a single term, he upset a Republican incumbent in a primary for a state House seat. Like all freshmen, Tillis arrived in Raleigh as a backbencher, but he quickly impressed his Republican colleagues, who chose him freshman leader. In just his second term, he joined the House GOP leadership as minority whip.
Despite the drubbing Republicans took in North Carolina in 2008, Tillis saw an opportunity and took a gamble. In 2009, he left his job as a $500,000-a-year business consultant and worked tirelessly in the 2010 election to recruit and elect GOP candidates. Safe in his own seat, Tillis crisscrossed the state helping House candidates organize and raise money. The bet paid off when Republicans won control of the House in the 2010 landslide. Tillis impressed enough members and accrued enough favors that he was narrowly chosen speaker over House Minority Leader Skip Stam, a six-term veteran. The more socially conservative Stam became majority leader.
So far, so good, but the writer of this partisan diatribe is just warming up.
The 2011 session of the legislature marked the first time in North Carolina in more than a century that Republicans controlled both houses of the General Assembly. Tillis arrived with ambition and a pocket full of political IOUs but few legislative accomplishments. And while previous speakers, both Democrat and Republican, brought years of experience and relationships to the job, Tillis had only two terms in the House and one in the GOP leadership.
In contrast, his Senate counterpart, President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, spent 10 years in the Senate watching his predecessor, Democrat Marc Basnight, run a disciplined and focused caucus. Berger understood both the formal and informal rules of the legislature and the dynamics that made it work. He also had a veto-proof majority, something Tillis lacked in the House. After six years of quickly climbing the political ladder, Tillis initially seemed to focus on passing legislation and maintaining peace in his caucus. He and Berger appeared to work well together. They held joint press conferences, and most of their legislative priorities aligned.
Tempered by Democratic Governor Bev Perdue and the House Democrats, Tillis and Berger pushed an agenda that would later seem modest. They ended a one-cent sales tax, put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to ban gay marriage, required counseling before an abortion, cut funding to public schools and universities, and implemented tort reform. Most importantly, they passed a gerrymandered redistricting map that ensured their electoral success in 2012.
Lots of unnuendo, but no substance. Who trained you to be a liberal propagandist?
If Tillis put his ambition on hold during the 2011 legislative session, it reappeared in 2012. This time, it caused problems within his caucus and with Berger. Both men were rumored to be looking at Democrat Kay Hagan’s U.S. Senate seat. The pair seemed to be staking out opposing political ground. In a state that had narrowly voted for Obama in 2008, Tillis tried to build his credentials as a moderate. He made compensation for victims of the state’s eugenics program his top legislative priority and supported a measure to expand gambling on the Cherokee reservation in western North Carolina. Members of his caucus publicly criticized him for not holding to conservative principles.
Berger, for his part, established himself as the more conservative leader. He rolled out an education-reform plan that catered to his right flank. The measure took Tillis by surprise and the House delayed most of the education measures. In response, the Senate killed Tillis’s eugenics-compensation package. Tillis and Berger insisted they were still unified on key issues, but the 2012 session left obvious strains in their relationship. Instead of the frequent joint press conferences of 2011, they only appeared together to announce the budget deal.
Move along. Nothing to see here. The writer begins to fish in waters that don't yield the garbage he is looking for. He begins to fantasize.
While Democrats across the country were celebrating Barack Obama’s reelection in 2012, Tar Heel Republicans were consolidating their power. For the first time in more than a century, they controlled all of state government. Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory beat Democratic Lieutenant Governor Walter Dalton to become the first Republican governor in 20 years; Tillis now enjoyed a veto-proof majority in the House.
Theoretically, Tillis and the new governor were natural allies. Both were elected as moderates and both came from Charlotte, a buttoned-down town that’s home to the GOP’s business wing. They were cast in the mold of Jim Martin, another Charlotte moderate who had been North Carolina’s last Republican governor, more than 20 years ago. Both also needed to keep an eye on a statewide electorate. North Carolina had a long history of electing moderates at the top of the ticket. Business-friendly Democrats had held the Governor’s Mansion in part because primaries had forced Republican candidates too far to the right, making it difficult for them to win moderate voters necessary for victory in a general election.
Time's up, Mr. Muckraker. So where's the meat and 'taters?
But if Tillis or McCrory thought they could steer the new legislature down a moderate path, the opening days of the 2013 session must have been a shock. The new batch of jubilant legislators had all the answers and was champing at the bit to put them into practice. Like a conquering army, they hit Raleigh plundering and pillaging. They introduced voter-ID bills, anti-Sharia-law bills, and drug testing for welfare recipients. They “revised” boards and commissions to end some appointments and expand others. They cut taxes for the wealthy and ended the earned-income tax credit for the working poor. They took control of Asheville’s water supply and Charlotte’s airport. They redistricted county commission and school-board districts that were controlled by Democrats. There was no one to stop them.