Local News

Governor Hopes Black's Legal Issues Won't Cloud Legislative Agenda

Posted April 7, 2006 10:42 a.m. EDT

— Gov. Mike Easley's education pitch to lawmakers comes as House Democrats ponder the future of Speaker Jim Black. Now Easley is worried that mounting legal troubles for the speaker could take the focus off his budget.

On Thursday, Easley seemed confident his new education initiatives, plus proceeds from the lottery, will help his school funding issues sail through the House and Senate. After speaking at a retreat for education leaders and lawmakers, he was pressed on how Black's mounting legal troubles could affect how the House handles his legislative agenda.

"To be honest with you, I'm always concerned about the House," said Easley. "That is the most difficult place, because the numbers are so thin."

But it's not just thin numbers in the house that worry the governor.

"Obviously, you have some problems up top with the leadership, it's only going to exacerbate the problem," he said.

Some House Democrats who are facing primary opposition are in favor of Black stepping aside. Black's strongest supporters are the House Democrats who are running unopposed in the May primary.

"Personally, I support Speaker Black," said Rep. Lucy Allen, D-Franklin County. "I think he recognizes the problem that campaign issues are raising now, and he is addressing them."

Easley says the speaker issue is for House members to decide, and he is not getting involved. When asked if he had spoken with Black about stepping aside, the governor replied no, adding that he would not know what to say.

The speaker issue will likely be resolved before lawmakers get down to the budget work. The next legislative session opens May 9.