Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis was making the rounds in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to advance his U.S. Senate campaign even as lawmakers in Raleigh were attempting to resolve some contentious issues and shut down this year's legislative session.
Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, also missed part of Tuesday's session, although he was expected back in Raleigh late Wednesday.
"He had a few meetings that he had to attend in Washington," said Paul Shumaker, a consultant and spokesman for Tillis' Senate campaign.
Those meeting included an event with U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, a series of meetings with other D.C.-based political people and "meet and greets." One of those meet and greets was scheduled for 11 a.m., the same time as the House session began in Raleigh. Held at the offices of the National Association of Wholesale Distributors, the invitation came with a fundraising disclaimer.
Shumaker said the primary purpose of the trip was not fundraising, per se. Rather, he said, Tillis was building the networks needed to raise money for his run to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan in 2014.
"It's all about laying the groundwork for fundraising," Shumaker said.
Tillis is behind in that fundraising chase. Hagan reported raising $2 million during the last quarter and has $4.2 million in her bank account. Tillis finished the quarter with close to $250,000 in the bank.
Democrats, not unexpectedly, pounced on Tillis for leaving the state as the legislative session was in progress.
"Instead of doing his job, Tillis was in Washington, D.C., meeting with groups he hopes will bankroll his Senate campaign," read an email from the North Carolina Democratic Party.
More interestingly, a few senators speaking on background grumbled that Tillis' absence – and focus outside of the legislative building – has been getting in the way of shutting down the session.
Later in the day, as the Senate session wrapped up, Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, loudly declared on the Senate floor that his members were "sick of the House."
Asked about his comment, Apodaca didn't address Tillis specifically but said, "They don't want to stay here and work."
Senators have said they would like to stay in session until it concludes. But House members have said they will likely go home for the weekend, leaving budget negotiators behind to hammer out a deal with the Senate. Even with a tax bill done, lawmakers still need to agree on a two-year spending plan.
Asked about Tillis' absence, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said he was scheduled to meet with the speaker later Wednesday and said he was "confident we can keep things moving along."
Berger has canceled his own travel plans. He was scheduled to head to California early next week to chair a meeting of the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee.
Shumaker pointed out that, even as Tillis has worked to spin up his Senate campaign, lawmakers have passed a tax reform proposal this week that hued more closely to House preferences for the bill than Senate preferences. He dismissed any grousing by senators as "political jockeying between the House and the Senate."
It was the House, Shumaker said, where Tillis and other members were growing their beards to protest the length of session.
Asked whether Tillis' campaign and work as speaker were interfering with one another, Shumaker said no. The pressure, he said, is no different from what Hagan faces in balancing her work in the Senate and her own campaign fundraising.
"It's a reality that any current office holder might face," he said.