Local News

Decker's Party Switch Leaves Questions For One State Leader

Posted August 3, 2006

— Had Republicans ruled the state House of Representatives, would North Carolina have a lottery today? What other bills would or would not have become law?

One man's decision altered the balance of power.

In 2003, Rep. Michael Decker, R- Forsyth, suddenly jumped over to the Democratic Party and helped House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, keep his leadership position.

Now, Decker could be headed to prison for taking a payoff to make the move.

Although Decker's switch helped Black, it changed the political fate of Leo Daughtry.

It was election night 2002. State Republicans narrowly reclaimed control of the House.

"It was a great time for us," Daughtry said.

The Johnston County lawmaker was the GOP's minority leader. Within weeks, the caucus nominated him to become the next Speaker.

Then, Decker expressed anger that Daughtry and his fellow Republicans did not nominate him to be speaker pro tem.

Finally, Decker registered as a Democrat, leaving some Republicans to blame Daughtry for the party's betrayal.

That cleared the way for Jim Black and Richard Morgan to share the speaker's gavel.

"I didn't know what I had done wrong," Daughtry said. "I could see our opportunity to take over the House slipping away. It was frustrating."

Then, came the revelation this week that Decker took a $50,000 payoff to switch parties.

"It just saddened me," Daughtry said. "I was surprised and shocked by it."

Daughtry won't attack Decker or speculate whether he thinks Black was involved.

Had Decker not switched parties, Daughtry does believe things would be different today -- perhaps, no lottery, maybe larger tax rollbacks, and maybe, he would have been speaker.

"I really don't want to characterize what happened," Daughtry said when asked whether he thought he was robbed of his chance to become speaker. "People can surmise whether I was robbed or not."

Daughtry said he thinks Republicans can capitalize on the political scandal and retake control of the House in November elections.

Democrats, however, argue that the state is in better shape with the Democrats running the House. Controversy or not, they have said they plan to keep it that way.

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