Local Politics

Hackney Secures Nomination for House Speakership

House Democrats elected Orange County Rep. Joe Hackney as their candidate to become the next state Speaker of the House.

Posted Updated

House Democrats elected Rep. Joe Hackney on Wednesday as their candidate to succeed House Speaker Jim Black, making the Orange County lawyer and farmer the favorite to win one of the most powerful jobs in state government.

Hackney won 41 of 66 votes cast on the final ballot in a closed-door meeting of the House Democratic Caucus. Rep. Jim Crawford of Granville County finished second with 23 votes, while former Speaker Dan Blue of Wake County received two votes, according to several Democrats.

The full chamber will vote on a new speaker when the General Assembly reconvenes January 24 and elects its leaders, but Hackney has the inside track as the choice of the majority party.

"I will make the House function fairly, openly and with deliberation," Hackney said after the 3 1/2-hour caucus meeting.

Hackney's nomination signals the end of a leadership era for the State House. When the new session convenes in a couple of weeks, Black will pound the gavel for the last time as Speaker.
The Mecklenburg County lawmaker served four terms as House Speaker.

Black said he is looking forward to operating as a regular member of the State House.

"I'm happy to be free at last, free at last," he said. "So, I'll be a member and go back to regular life. I won't have nearly as much pressure, but I'll be there to serve in any way I can be of help."

Black decided not to seek a fifth term as House Speaker. He said he wanted to take the focus off of his connection to an on-going public corruption investigation.

Surrounded by the four candidates he defeated as a sign of party unity, Hackney said he would keep to recent Democratic platforms of improving education, creating jobs and providing more affordable health care.

House speaker is among the most powerful positions in state government, empowered with the authority to determine which bills the state Legislature hears and to steer influence and appointments to factions within the speaker's party and regions of the state.

Hackney joined the General Assembly in 1981 and often has been viewed as the chief spokesman for the party's liberal wing, pushing for a moratorium on the death penalty and public financing of political campaigns.

But Hackney has said he developed a record that shows he can govern from the middle and push a centrist agenda while serving as House Democratic Leader or Democratic Majority Leader for the past four years.

"North Carolina is a diverse state. This is a diverse caucus," he said. "I will make sure that all parts of the caucus are represented."

The race to replace Black, which featured five Democrats, began in earnest after the embattled Charlotte-area optometrist said last month he wouldn't seek a fifth term as the top official in the House.

As majority leader, Hackney was credited with keeping his colleagues united behind a legislative platform during last year's session, one of the ways the party tried to deflect criticism of Black. For more than a year, a federal grand jury has looked into Black's campaign finances and his connections to the lottery and video poker industries.

Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, described Hackney as a skilled and experienced politician. Stam said he and Hackney had a good working relationship while they worked together on a judiciary committee.

"He allows anyone to make amendments. He never cuts anybody off," Stam said. "That's what we'd like to see on the floor."

Other Democratic candidates included Rep. Mickey Michaux of Durham County, the longest-serving House Democrat, and Rep. Drew Saunders of Mecklenburg County. Both were removed from the race when they finished last in the first two rounds of voting.

Blue made history in 1991 when he was elected the first black leader of the chamber. He recently returned to the Legislature after a four-year break following an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate in 2002.

Democrats won 68 of the 120 House seats in November and now hold their largest majority since 1994. But Republicans still have 52 votes and could try to work out a coalition agreement with a failing Democratic candidate.

Blue and Crawford have been part of such deals in recent years, but both said after the votes they believed the caucus would unite behind Hackney.

"I think our caucus is going to stick together. I hope so," said Crawford, a House Appropriations Committee co-chairman the past four years.

Stam said he wouldn't speculate on whether House Republicans would consider forming a coalition with another Democrat. Stam said there was a sentiment among many Republicans "for being the loyal opposition this time."

Also Wednesday, the caucus nominated Rep. William Wainwright of Craven County as speaker pro tempore to preside over House debate in the speaker's absence. Wainwright defeated Rep. Beverly Earle of Mecklenburg County.

The caucus also elected Rep. Hugh Holliman as majority leader, choosing the Davidson County lawmakers over Reps. Marian McLawhorn of Pitt County and Bill Owens of Pasquotank County.

Copyright 2024 by WRAL.com and the Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.