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Black, Morgan Elected Co-Speakers Of State House

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina House will have co-speakers for the first time in the state's history after lawmakers on Wednesday chose Democrat Jim Black and Republican Richard Morgan to lead the chamber.

The House voted 89-31 for the power-sharing arrangement.

The vote followed a week in which the House, evenly divided at 60-60 between Republicans and Democrats, was unable to elect a speaker.

The week without a leader was believed to be the first time in state history that the House was unable to choose a speaker on the first day of the legislative session.

Black, a Mecklenburg County optometrist, had been speaker for the past four years. Morgan, a Moore County businessman, served as chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee the last time Republicans controlled the House, from 1995 until 1999.

Black and Morgan had negotiated about a possible power-sharing arrangement for several days leading up to the start of the 2003 legislative session Jan. 29.

Republicans, though, nominated another House member, Rep. George Holmes, R-Yadkin, as their speaker nominee. Black held out hope that he could persuade a Republican to vote for him and gain a third term as speaker.

By Tuesday, the 60 Democrats backing Black looked like they might become fractured, leading to Wednesday's deal.

The power-sharing arrangement will extend to all House committees, which will be equally divided among Republicans and Democrats.

Co-speakers are rare but not unprecedented in other states. At least four states have used co-speakers in running chambers since 1978, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most recently, Washington did so from 1999-2001.

The House speaker is one of the most powerful political figures in the state, controlling committee assignments and the progress of legislation through the chamber.

Because of that power, many of the campaign contributions that go to House members in his or her party flow through the speaker's campaign committee.

"This is an interesting arrangement, but it is one that gives us unprecedented opportunity to have bipartisan participation as we begin what is certain to be a challenging legislative session," Gov. Mike Easley said.

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