Cornelius Republican worked for GOP statewide
N.C. Rep. Thom Tillis, who represents northwest Mecklenburg County, announced Nov. 5 that he is running for speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives.
Since his election from House District 98 four years ago, Tillis has quickly emerged as a leader of his party in the General Assembly. He currently serves as minority whip, the no. 2 position in the Republican caucus.
After Republicans gained control of the House and Senate in the Nov. 2 elections, legislators and newspapers statewide have said either Tillis or Paul “Skip” Stam, the current minority leader, are the frontrunners for leading the new Republican majority.
“We have been honored by the citizens of North Carolina with their confidence,” Tillis said in a news release. “As speaker, I will do everything in my power to work with the members of the House to ensure that we meet their high expectations.”
When lawmakers take their oath of office in late January, Republicans will hold the majority of seats in both houses for the first time since 1898.
“Under the Dome,” a respected insider political column in The News and Observer in Raleigh, said Stam and Tillis “are considered to be the frontrunners to wield the speaker’s gavel when the GOP takes control of the N.C. House early next year.”
But The News and Observer and other newspapers mention another half-dozen Republicans, including Ric Killian, a south Charlotte Republican, who confirmed that he is exploring his support for the top job. Others reportedly “counting votes” are Mitch Gillespie, of Marion; Johnathan Rhyne, of Lincolnton; Julia Howard, of Mocksville; Dale Folwell, of Winston-Salem; and Tim Moore, of Kings Mountain, according to The News and Observer.
The Daily Reflector in Greenville, N.C., wrote: “Tillis has a reputation as being a conciliator who focuses on big-picture priorities. First elected in 2006, he is a management consultant who has worked for Fortune 500 companies. Congenial and polished, Tillis, 50, quickly rose through the Republican ranks and served as chairman of the 2010 GOP caucus campaign committee. He quit his job at IBM last year to devote himself full time to campaigning for Republicans across the state.”
Several Republican House members did not return calls from The Herald Weekly seeking comment about the House Speaker contest.
Beverly Earle, the House Democrat who represented North Mecklenburg before Tillis’ district was created, said she’s been surprised to see “more and more people have come out of the woodwork” to run for speaker.
But everyone knew Tillis and Stam were favorites. “Thom has been very aggressive in raising money for Republicans,” Earle said, “and people remember that.”
When the Republicans were the minority in the House, Tillis has been “fair and open” when working Democrats, said Earle, who until now served as co-chair of the important Appropriations subcommittee on health and human services. “He’s not a bad person to work with … Everything doesn’t have to be as partisan as it is.”
If Republicans elect Tillis as speaker, “it’s certainly going to be a plus for the county and region,” Earle said. “Thom is certainly pro-business, and he comes from the corporate world. I think that will be good for Mecklenburg County.”
Earle already knows she has to move to smaller office, and she hopes to keep a position on the Appropriations subcommittee. But she added, “This might be a good time to sit back and watch.”
With the state facing at least a $3.5 billion shortfall in the next budget year, Earle said most of those cuts will have to come from education, health and human services and public safety, which get the most state money. And if Republicans also want to lower taxes, that will make the budget cuts even more painful, she said.
Cornelius Mayor Jeff Tarte also raised budget concerns but said Tillis, who previously served on the Cornelius Board of Commissioners, is the man for the job.
“If you had to hand-pick someone in the legislature who would be great for this role,” Tarte said, “I think you’d reach in and pull Thom Tillis out of the crowd.
“We’ve got major, major statewide budget issues, and here’s a guy who ran a multi-million dollar consulting practice within IBM. He understands large complex problems, and that’s what he does for a living.”
Bill Russell, president of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, said Tillis’ election as speaker of the N.C. House would be “tremendously beneficial for the Lake Norman and North Mecklenburg area.”
Tarte echoed Russell’s enthusiasm about Tillis’ potential election and his potential to help Mecklenburg County. “It can’t hurt the area that he’s from here and he knows our issues and needs, but I think it bodes well for the whole state,” Tarte said.
While constituents could see some benefits from Tillis’ election, Russell said that Tillis is committed to reforming the state’s “pork barrel” system that benefits those districts of powerful lawmakers. “I’ve heard Thom say again and again that he wants to change the absolute inefficiency of the transportation funding formula,” he said.
Tillis would focus on “fiscal restraint” and rebuilding North Carolina’s reputation as “the good roads state,” Russell predicted.
“It’s a real gift that he has for the job,” Tarte said, “and it’s a gift to us that he will potentially become the speaker of the house.”