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Senate Sentinel Often Goes Unheard, Yet Steals the Show

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RALEIGH — In the chambers of theNorth Carolina General Assembly, lawmakers cajole and debate, bicker and barter over the state's affairs. But the business in theState Senatedoes notreallybegin until LeRoy Clark Jr. speaks.

But when Clark speaks, almost no one listens. Who is this man?

"Best reading clerk there is anywhere. Unusual guy," comments Sen. Mark Basnight, President Pro Tem.

The Wendell resident gets paid about $50 a day to stand before the State Senate and readeverybill.

"Read fast and get out of the way, because 99 percent of them are not listening to a word you're saying," says Clark.

The way the Senate storytellers tell it, 150 years ago, state leaders did not always read and write. They needed someone to read to them; they needed a LeRoy Clark.

For the past 24 years, Clark has been a sentinel, reading bills into the public record. It is a thankless, ignored task unless the Senate floor gets testy!

"He has a very easy way. And sometimes he has a way of diffusing tension," says Sen. Anthony Rand, D-Cumberland County.

"Sometimes I just stick something in there to see if anyone is listening," says Clark. "Once in a while the devil gets in me and I'll do that."

If you visit the Senate chambers, LeRoy Clark will be there. He will be cool, calm, collected and fulfilling a constitutional requirement: to read and wait for the Senate to govern.

There is also a House bill reader. And if you think the practice of reading bills has outlived its time, note this: it would take a constitutional amendement to eliminate the jobs.