House Finance chair gives up gavel, blasts Speaker

Longtime House lawmaker Robert Brawley, R-Iredell, handed back his Finance gavel Wednesday afternoon with a blistering public letter against House Speaker Thom Tillis.

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State Rep. C. Robert Brawley, R-District 95
Laura Leslie

Longtime House lawmaker Rep. Robert Brawley, R-Iredell, handed back his Finance gavel Wednesday afternoon with a blistering public letter against fellow Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis.

In his letter, read aloud during Wednesday's House session, Brawley says Tillis pressured him over House Bill 557, Brawley's bill to increase the territory area for local broadband provider MI Connections in Mooresville.

"You slamming my office door shut, standing in front of me and stating that you have a business relationship with Time Warner," Brawley wrote. "MI Connections is being operated just as any other free enterprise system and should be allowed to do so without the restrictions placed on them by the proponents of Time Warner." 

H557 was referred to Government, which didn't take it up before crossover. 

Brawley also blames Tillis for blocking House Bill 245, his "little bill" to de-annex 23 acres near Troutman.

Brawley said even though H245 had the mayor's backing, "You have controlled it completely, or your staff has, under the pretense we do not want to create conflicts with towns. Yet, we run all over Buncombe County and Asheville as if it is some kind of hero in the legislature taking care of things." 

Brawley also implies that Tillis is aware of unethical behavior by another lawmaker: "A Republican-led General Assembly passing a bill giving a monopoly to the family of a Republican legislator. I am sure you know what I am referring to since all conversations I have had with anyone seem to lead back to you." 

Brawley was referring to House Bill 738, a law passed in 2012 that requires all bail bondsmen in the state to be certified by the NC Bail Agents Association. The non-profit NC Bail Agents Association is run by Phil Burr, the father of Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly, himself a bail bondsman.

While Rep. Burr recused himself from voting on the measure, critics say other members of state House and Senate leadership made sure it would pass, including Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, also a bail bondsman and one of the founders of the NCBBA.

The law was stayed by Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens. 

The letter also accuses Tillis of changing his position on toll roads. 

Brawley writes that he is returning his Finance gavel "with a heavy heart and for these reasons."

"I reserve the right to continue to represent my district and to fight for what I believe is American," Brawley writes. "I am sorry if you and I get caught up in a fight." 

Tillis spokesman Jordan Shaw said he had only just seen the letter, and had not attended a meeting between Tillis and Brawley before session, so he couldn't offer insight or reaction to Brawley's allegations.

But he said Brawley's decision to step down from the leadership was "a mutual decision."

"We have seventy-seven people in our caucus," Shaw said. "It's pretty clear we're going to have a difference of opinion occasionally."

Shaw said it's unlikely Brawley will be replaced as Finance Chair, since the session is getting close to its conclusion. 

Brawley recently made headlines for saying the ethics law should be repealed to allow lobbyists to once again give lawmakers gifts or take them to dinner. 

He served nine terms in the state House from 1981 to 1998, when he retired. He returned to the House earlier this year. 

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