@NCCapitol

NC House approves limits for leaders

Posted April 6, 2011 5:05 p.m. EDT
Updated April 6, 2011 6:49 p.m. EDT

State lawmakers are in the process of ensuring more turnover in the corner offices on Jones Street.

House members voted 72-47 Wednesday to tentatively approve a constitutional amendment that would allow lawmakers to serve as House speaker or Senate president pro tem for no more than four years.

The issue is one of the top agenda items for the new Republican leadership. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger has said he supports the idea.

Opponents argued the measure shouldn’t be a constitutional amendment, but its supporters said that, if it wasn’t, then future General Assemblies could simply vote it down.

Some Democrats said the limit should be eight years instead of four. Minority Leader Joe Hackney, a former House speaker, said capping leaders’ tenure at four years would put them “out of parity” with the governor, who can serve two consecutive four-year terms and then come back to serve again after one term out of office.

Hackney, D-Orange, said he supports limiting leaders, but he doesn’t believe the change should be written into the state constitution.

“It indicates that we know the best thing for all the future in North Carolina, and we don’t. We just don’t,” Hackney said. “We don’t know what kind of governors we’re going to have.”

But Rep. Johnathan Rhyne, R-Lincoln, said the true check on the governor’s power is the “collective wisdom” of the General Assembly, not its individual leaders.

“The people like turnover among their public officials,” Rhyne argued. “They don’t like entrenchment. They don’t like people amassing power.”

The measure is scheduled for a final House vote Thursday. If it wins Senate approval as well, it will go before the voters in November 2012.