The NC Senate can (and has) been called a lot of things. But “confrontational” is generally not one of them.
The Senate is a smaller body than the House, just 50 members who work together very closely for months on end. It’s not surprising that this closeness tends to breed a certain congeniality. Even when they disagree vehemently, senators rarely call each other out. They keep it civil, and they don’t get personal. They leave all that on the campaign trail.
Bob Rucho’s been around the chamber a long time. The Mecklenburg Republican and Finance chair is in his sixth full term in the Senate. His comments tend to be fairly pointed, but I’ve never heard him go off on a tirade like he did today. In fact, I’ve never heard anyone in that chamber go off like that.
To put it in context, the Senate had been in debate for about 45 minutes. The minority Democrats had introduced an amendment to S13, the “Balanced Budget Act,” seeking to protect funding for areas they say are critical to state job development and business recruitment. Seven Democrats had already spoken on the amendment, admonishing the GOP for seeking to cut job-creation programs.
Rucho had had it.
The reaction in the chamber was interesting, to say the least. Freshmen’s eyes widened. Staff murmured. Dem leaders whispered to each other.
But Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt chose not to take the bait. In the spirit of cordial party relations, he said, “I am going to turn the other cheek. But I won’t do it again. We’ve got to stop this mess, the railing and fussing and the bickering over how we got here.”
The amendment was defeated, and the bill was passed, both on straight party-line votes, 30-18 (Forrester (R) and Graham (D) were absent).
After the session, Wake Democrat Dan Blue called Rucho’s remarks “inappropriate,” but “out of character” for him.
At a press conference later, Berger said he didn’t feel the remarks were inappropriate at all. When asked whether Rucho’s tone was conducive to bipartisan lawmaking, he said, “I think it’s at times conducive to healthy debate. Really, I didn’t see that anything got out of hand… Other people can form their own judgments.”
When I spoke with Rucho late this afternoon, he defended his remarks. “Everything I said was true,” he said. He talked about the state’s double-digit unemployment rate. “When are we going to care about those people, the working people?”
Did he think anything he said was over the top?
Rucho didn’t hesitate. “Not one bit.”