Local News

Hackney Grabs House Speakership

Posted January 24, 2007 8:36 a.m. EST
Updated January 24, 2007 7:51 p.m. EST

— Shortly after the gavel fell to open the 147th session of the North Carolina General Assembly at noon Wednesday, Orange County Democrat Joe Hackney ascended to the top spot in the state House.

Hackney was elected House speaker along party lines, defeating Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, by a 68-52 vote. Hackney replaces Rep. Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, who served as speaker for eight years but has been dogged by ethics questions and a federal corruption investigation for the past year.

"I look forward to a session with civility," said Hackney, a 26-year veteran of the state House.

Meanwhile, Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare, was elected to a record eighth term as Senate president pro tempore.

Democrats continue to hold the majority in both chambers of the General Assembly, but there are 16 new members in the state House and five new members in the state Senate.

Incoming House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman said he looks forward to working with Hackney.

"He has a very inclusive style, and he likes to do a lot of things with committees and making sure that everybody is involved. I think that's the way to do this process," said Holliman, D-Davidson.

Stam, who will serve as House minority leader, said he expects more bipartisan cooperation with Hackney in charge.

"He is receptive to amendments and debate and collaborative work on bills. So, I assume and expect he'll bring that to the floor debate as well," Stam said. "It's certainly a different day."

In response to a lobbying scandal involving Black, legislators have already passed several new laws, including a requirement that they file more campaign finance reports during session.

"The people are concerned about ethics. We've done that. We'll see how it goes," Holliman said.

In his first address to his colleagues as speaker, Hackney emphasized ethics would be as important an issue in the House as education and transportation.

"The people of North Carolina want us to continue to focus on our ethical obligations, to enforce the new standards and to strive to improve them, and we will do so," he said.

Black said he was relieved to return to the rank and file.

"It's somewhat of a relief because (being speaker is) a huge job, and bearing that burden is more than just about anyone can imagine," he said, adding that he couldn't even commit to fulfilling all of his two-year term.

One of the legislature's biggest priorities for the session is passing the $19 billion state budget. Lawmakers still don't know whether they will be working with a revenue surplus or shortfall.

Other topics the General Assembly is expected to address are immigration reform, a death penalty moratorium and the prospect of creating statewide bonds to deal with school and highway construction and purchasing land for open space.

Hackney will spend the next few weeks appointing committees to tackle those issues.

Wake County is also at the center of several big issues, including the future of the Dorothea Dix campus. The 300-acre, state-run mental hospital will shut down in 2008. Some want the city of Raleigh to take it over and create a park and mixed-use development, but its fate rests with a legislative panel.