Thom Tillis, the speaker of the North Carolina General Assembly and a leading Republican contender to challenge U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan (D) this year, wants his state legislative session to be over as soon as possible.
“Heavy-lift items come in the first half of the session,” Tillis told The New York Times on Wednesday. “As a practical matter, I want the session to be the shortest it can be.”
A shorter session would presumably create less fodder for the Hagan campaign to attack Tillis as he attempts to lock up the GOP senatorial nomination.
Republicans took control of both houses of the North Carolina legislature in 2010 for the first time in more than a century, and then added the governor's office in 2012 with Pat McCrory's victory. With their new power, they have ended teacher tenure, reduced unemployment benefits, implemented stricter regulations on abortion clinics, allowed concealed guns in bars and restaurants, passed strict voter identification requirements -- and stirred up some very well-publicized protests. Thousands of angry demonstrators have gathered repeatedly in Raleigh in the "Moral Monday" movement.
Tillis' campaign manager and spokesman, Jordan Shaw, clarified the speaker's remark for The Huffington Post.
"The North Carolina legislature is designed around a long session (last year) to deal with complex issues that take greater amounts of time, and a short session (this year) to make necessary adjustments to the budget and other targeted priorities. One of those priorities during this session will be education," Shaw said.
McCrory has called for an overhaul of teachers' pay. North Carolina ranks 46th in the nation, with an average teacher salary nearly $10,000 lower than the national average. Raising teachers' pay would be the kind of bipartisan measure that Hagan's campaign would find hard to criticize.
In December, Tillis told the state's Farm Bureau that he also wanted the legislature to address immigration reform this year, although he has said he would have voted against the bipartisan immigration bill passed by the U.S. Senate in June.
North Carolina Democrats have said they would like the legislature to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and renew the expired earned income tax credit.
Meanwhile, Tillis released his first television ad of the race on Jan. 2. As Roll Call noted, he doesn't even mention his role as speaker, instead focusing on Hagan and the "disaster" of the Affordable Care Act.
Beyond the "Moral Monday" protests, Tillis also attracted criticism for missing votes in order to attend fundraisers in Washington last summer. His hometown paper, The Charlotte Observer, called on him to resign last July:
Tillis is missing sessions. His actions are raising questions of conflict of interest. He has shown he can’t give his undivided attention to the N.C. House and the U.S. Senate at the same time. He should give up his Speaker’s gavel, resign from his House seat and give his full energy to his Senate bid, unencumbered by such distractions as running the state.
Ben Ray, a North Carolina Democratic Party spokesman, told HuffPost that "it's no surprise" that Tillis wants the session to be over quickly.
"Time and again last year he skipped out on legislative work to fundraise, eventually leading his hometown paper to call for his resignation saying he 'can't serve two masters' and had the look of pay to play. When the chips are down, Thom Tillis works for his special interest backers, and it's hurting North Carolina," said Ray.