Local News

Democratic Whip: House Should Discuss Speaker Black's Status

Posted April 4, 2006

— House Democrats should discuss asking Speaker Jim Black to step down temporarily until his legal troubles are resolved, a party whip said Tuesday.

But Rep. Hugh Holliman stopped short of calling on Black to leave his leadership post.

"That is one of the options that we should be looking at as a caucus," said Holliman, D-Davidson. "That doesn't mean that the speaker has to resign. It means that we need to look at all the options and look at what's best for the caucus."

Over the past week two other House Democrats have called on Black to resign as speaker and a third of the House for him to step down temporarily in the wake of a State Board of Elections investigation of his campaign.

The board referred Black and his campaign to Wake County prosecutors to examine whether charges should be filed for his acceptance from optometrists of incomplete checks, which allowed him to designate the recipient on at least three of them.

Black's office also has provided a federal grand jury with more than 3,000 pages of documents, while former political director Meredith Norris and others are being investigated for potential state lobbying law violations.

Black hasn't been charged with a crime and his office has said in a written statement that he sees no need to step down.

"Speaker Black has done nothing to warrant his resignation, and he is fully cooperating with investigators, but he believes his most important priority is getting ready for the start of session," the statement read.

Statewide political columnist Scott Mooneyham believes that if Black remains Speaker, the controversy seriously weakens his leadership.

"I think the tension is unprecedented," Mooneyham said. "It's going to be difficult for him to read legislatively and to speak for the Democratic Caucus."

Holliman acknowledged in an interview that he would be interested in running for speaker should the post become vacant, but added "there'd be a lot of people interested."

Holliman said he is concerned that Black's problems could cause Democrats to lose control of the chamber if some key swing districts support Republicans in November rather than Democrat incumbents. Democrats now hold 63 of the 120 seats in the House.

Some House Democrats want to assemble before the May legislative session begins to discuss whether Black should remain speaker.

House Majority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Orange, said late last week that the chamber's Democratic caucus would meet "in the near future."


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