Lawmakers peeved over surprise makeover to House chamber

Posted November 12, 2014

— Outgoing state House Speaker Thom Tillis authorized extensive changes to the House chamber without discussing it with fellow lawmakers.

The $125,000 makeover includes walling off six of the 13 sets of double doors to the 51-year-old chamber and replacing the iconic red velvet drapes behind the speaker's dais with wood paneling.

Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, said he first noticed the plastic sheeting in the House chamber last week but didn't think much about it.

"My assumption was that they were just doing some limited maintenance work, cleaning some things up," Martin said Wednesday.

Then the drywall started going up over masonry walls and large wooden doors, and people in and around the Legislative Building started talking about the extent of the renovation. 

Rep. Julia Howard, R-Davie, said the red drapes have hung in the chamber for decades.

"I am shocked that they're taken down. I'm really shocked," Howard said. "I certainly hope they haven't been destroyed. That's a piece of our history, a very important piece of our history, and it does disturb me."

Kory Goldsmith, interim legislative services director, said the drapes are slated to be sold soon as state surplus.

The House chamber is one of the most famous rooms in North Carolina. Thousands of students tour it each year as part of their history curriculum.

Yet, Howard, a member of House leadership, said she had no idea the changes were coming. Neither did several other House Republican and Democratic lawmakers WRAL News contacted.

"I don’t think any of the members knew," Howard said. "It should have been an issue that was brought before the [House] body." 

The money for the project was already in the state budget to pay for House operations.

Anna Roberts, a spokeswoman for Tillis, said the renovation is functional, not just cosmetic. Workers are upgrading wiring and improving IT connections. They're also replacing the aging electronic voting system that has had glitches in recent years that have held up debate.  

The doors that were walled up have been kept locked since 2011, when security was tightened after gay marriage advocates stormed the House floor during a debate.  

Roberts's statement said the changes "mirror" those made in the state Senate chamber during a $2 million renovation in 2006.

However, senators voted on that renovation before work started. Also, the state budget wasn't as tight as it is now, and Tillis, who was elected last week to the U.S. Senate, won't be back in Raleigh to answer his critics on the issue.

Martin said he has asked House Republicans to stop the renovation before it goes any further.

"I am very concerned about the changes that seem to have been unilateral to a place that belongs to the people," he said. "Wouldn't this $100,000 been better used fixing a leaky pipe in a state building that's really running down as opposed to one whose walls and doors were doing their job just fine?"


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  • Objective Scientist Nov 14, 2014

    WHAT A "CROCK"!!! Every one of the "lawmakers" who are whining, wringing their hands, complaining, "belly-aching", etc. about this will truly enjoy their "new digs" as soon as the next legislative session begins... and all of this "rhetoric" about being upset over "unnecessary" spending of taxpayer money will all quietly "go away"! The current "outcry" is purely and simply "for political purposes"! Just another indicator of "how stupid" the politicians think all of us are! GIVE ME THAT PROVERBIAL "BREAK"!!!

  • Tim Kelly Nov 14, 2014
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    I am sure that you were the first whiner-in-line when the democrats "just went ahead and got the lottery done" several years back as well.

  • Tammy Rush Nov 14, 2014
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    Plus, the GOP took control of the NCGA halfway through Bev's term.

  • Grand Union Nov 14, 2014

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    Don't confuse the Tea Party Right with facts.........They can't handle any reality but their own.

  • Carl Keehn Nov 14, 2014
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    You realize that in the Summer of 2008, the economy crashed and went into free fall. Governor Perdue took power just in time to watch the economy bottom out. State Agencies were instructed repeatedly to reduce their budgets more and more as collections plummeted. All of State Government was working to deal with the shortfalls at the time.

    You also realize that the Governor does not set the budget, that is the power of the legislature. The Governor can only recommend, the legislature has the power to adopt the Governor's budget or to incorporate portions of it into their budget. They can also reject the Governor's recommendations outright.

  • Tim Wallace Nov 14, 2014
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    Interesting. I see that when Bev Perdue took over as governor NC was ranked 25th in the country. When she left, they were ranked 48th. And yet the myth about the republicans destroying teacher's pay persists.

  • forwhatsright Nov 14, 2014

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    Needed? I guess it is OK for him to authorize it then, without being discussed?

  • turkeydance Nov 13, 2014

    this was needed.
    more renovation should
    have been done. the chandeliers
    and the gallery seats are old and busted.
    i visit the GA 5 to 8 times a year. it looks dated and 'dowdy'.

  • I Have a Discernible Chin Nov 13, 2014

    This will be stopped. Tom will learn that the people still run this state.

  • forwhatsright Nov 13, 2014

    Good Job NC.....now who's spending the tax payers money?