Just minutes after finding out that comments he and his caucus made behind closed doors were broadcast to the press room, House Speaker Thom Tillis came out swinging – and joking – at a previously scheduled press conference.
Tillis tapped the microphone. “Is this thing on?”
During the meeting, Majority Leader Skip Stam had called Gov. Bev Perdue “incompetent.” Tillis doubled down on that, arguing that “incompetence was involved” in her handling of the unemployment benefits logjam, which ended via an executive order Perdue signed Friday afternoon.
“If the governor really does have the authority to execute that executive order, then where in the world has she been for the last 7 weeks?” Tillis asked. “And if the governor doesn’t have that executive authority, then why in the world is she trying to break the law when she knows she’s got a budget that’s about to come before her that fixes this problem?”
Perdue said she had received advice just Thursday that the Department of Labor would allow her to use an executive order to make a legal change that would allow federal checks to begin flowing again to nearly 47,000 jobless North Carolinians.
“Is there anybody in here with a straight face either on this side or that side that believes that?” Tillis asked. “Puh-LEASE. If I can, as an executive, cause this to go away, I’m gonna come down the street and deal with this when it’s within my power? That’s the most absurd position I’ve heard the office take yet.”
Tillis said the governor should sign the budget quickly because teachers and assistants are already being laid off by local officials anticipating cuts. “That’s not right. We have a budget that restores all the K-12 education funding for teachers and teachers assistants. The minute this budget gets signed, those folks don’t have to worry about being out of a job three weeks from now.”
The speaker said he’s confident the five Democrats who voted for the GOP budget the first time – Crawford, Owens, Hill, Brisson, and Spear – will vote to override Perdue’s veto if needed.
“I think it’s irresponsible for the governor to play games for the next ten days when she knows this budget is likely to become law with or without her support,” he said.
Tillis also answered questions about the caucus discussion on redistricting provisions in the budget, a topic GOP leaders told members to avoid talking about in floor debate.
“We’re just trying to provide certainty. Once we get our redistricting plans done, we just want to make sure somebody doesn’t stick them in a desk drawer somewhere for a while,” he said.
Why would the GOP’s five Democratic allies be “extremely sensitive,” as was said in caucus, to a provision allowing Republican leaders to shut the Attorney General’s office out of redistricting?
“I’m sure that the extent to which you could try and limit our options for having fair and legal distrcts get implemented, the other side would want to do that. If I were them, I would assume that would be their motivation.”
Why are Republicans planning to submit their plan straight to the DC circuit court, rather than sending it to the Dept. of Justice, the usual first step?
“Clearly, we’d rather take it through the channel that we think best benefits us in terms of getting the plans through. I generally have a high degree of confidence in the courts,” Tillis said.
“We just think it’ll be a lot faster to get pre-clearance,” House Redistricting Chair David Lewis added. “Basically, all you’re doing is filing a suit against the Justice Department to pre-clear your plan, and it makes them respond.” Lewis said Republicans are concerned that “if we went the other route, it would get put off and put off and put off and put off, till all of the sudden we don’t have time – we don’t have fair and legal districts.”
“It’s this gray area,” Tillis said. “We’re just trying to make it black and white. If people want to go through, they are part of the process, they probably should have an opportunity but there needs to be limits on it.”
Tillis also denied that the five Democrats who voted for the budget had been promised special considerations in the redistricting process in return.
“We asked them to come to the table and work with us about three months ago. That was the carrot – actually treating them with respect, actually taking their ideas when they made sense.”
Watch the video of the press conference at right.