Tillis’ two dilemmas

Jul. 16, 2013 @ 04:54 AM

House Speaker Thom Tillis may be the single most important person in state government right now and he’s got some pretty important decisions to make in the next few days … critical decisions that impact our state, but also his own political future. He’s got plenty of people tugging on him, whispering in his ear for support, offering advice, and herein lies Tillis’ dilemma.

He’s like a cowpoke riding a bucking bronco, trying to go the distance with a Republican caucus, most particularly in the Senate, that has a “patience my butt, I’m going to change most everything that has Democratic fingerprints” penchant. There is always tension between the Senate and House but this year is a high water mark. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and Tillis don’t get along but there are fissures even among the respective caucuses in both bodies and obvious animus between the Senate and Governor McCrory. The governor has been largely invisible most of this legislative session but suddenly has emerged to play a more assertive role and, while siding more often than not with Tillis’ House, is yet another element in the drama on Jones Street.

The best thing Tillis and the Republicans have going for them is Democrats. The state party is a train-wreck, the Democratic legislative caucus is invisible and noises coming from the Dems sound like whining from sore tail losers. But the Moral Monday movement poses a threat as the continued bungled reactions from Republicans have fueled fires of protest, fires that might turn into a raging blaze.

Women are angry over a disregard for their issues. Teachers and educators are convinced they are being punished through budget starvation and unfair competition that doesn’t have to play by the same rules as do they. Realtors, hospitals and the UNC system feel they have been unfairly targeted. Minorities, the unemployed, the poor and mentally ill know they don’t count in the new power structure of this state, don’t expect much and haven’t been disappointed.

The bottom line: there’s a lot of unhappiness and Speaker Tillis has two dilemmas. The first and most obvious is bringing this legislative session to a successful conclusion soon, avoiding irresponsible, inflammatory and highly partisan legislation, keeping the factions focused on outcomes while escaping further hostilities. His task is more difficult because he’s a lame duck and some of his members are already lining up to become Speaker when he steps down after next year’s short session.

Enter the second dilemma. How Tillis personally emerges from this legislative session is critical because he wants to be the Republican nominee to challenge Senator Kay Hagan next year and this session’s record will either boost or hurt his credentials as a leader.

Hagan’s seat has a history of one-term occupants and the stars seem to be aligning for a Republican victory if a candidate can corral enough of the party to win the nomination and keep them on the ranch while moving to the political center enough to capture a sufficient number of moderate and unaffiliated voters and women.

Thom Tillis is a savvy politician who doesn’t need reminding how critical the next few weeks will be. He’s carrying a tremendous load right now and many are watching how successfully he deals with his two dilemmas.


Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina State Treasurer and is creator/host of NC SPIN, a weekly statewide television discussion of NC issues airing Sundays at 5 a.m. on WLOS-TV. Contact him at www.ncspin.com.