Tillis backs off controversial welfare comments

Posted October 12, 2011 4:04 a.m. EDT
Updated October 12, 2011 6:28 p.m. EDT

— House Speaker Thom Tillis on Wednesday stepped back from comments he made last week favoring drug testing for people who receive public assistance.

Tillis made the comments Friday in Madison County, saying he would push to drug test people who get public aid if Republicans remain in power after the 2012 elections. He also agreed with a town hall participant's statement that drug testing be expanded to state employees.

The recorded comments were uploaded to YouTube and drew sharp criticism this week.

Tillis wasn't asked about the issue in a town hall meeting in Montgomery County on Wednesday, but afterward, he seems to take more of a wait-and-see approach on drug testing.

"I don't know if it's a good or bad idea," he said. "I think you go look at what the state of Florida and other states have done and see whether or not it's produced a benefit or more cost and make a decision based on that."

He also proposed a "divide and conquer" approach to entitlements in his Madison County appearance, saying disabled people should "look down at" unwed mothers and others who receive aid.

"What I was trying to say there, and maybe it was a poor word choice, is that we need to divide and look at everybody who's receiving government support and separate those from people who had no choice in the matter whatsoever," he said Wednesday.

Democratic activist Gerrick Brenner, who has been to a lot of Tillis' town hall meetings across the state in recent weeks, said he isn't surprised by the Mecklenburg County Republican's back-tracking.

"He's backing down from some pretty crass language that he really only feels comfortable voicing in front of his true believers," Brenner said. "In front of mainstream voters who have some common sense, he's a little uncomfortable about that."