Thoughts on the NC House GOP leadership skirmish

State House Republicans are meeting today to decide who will lead them through the next legislative session in Raleigh.  A lot of the current leadership is running again, while a few challengers have jumped in.

The GOP added nine seats to their majority in the House, and, apparently, TWO seats in the Senate.  Senators seem pretty copacetic with their leadership team.  In the House, some members on the right side of the GOP caucus have been griping about Speaker Thom Tillis’s heavy-handed management style, and showing some frustration over: (1) Tillis & Majority Leader Skip Stam’s aggressive support of reparations, and (2) the lack of any substantial tax relief, among other things.

Let’s take a look at the leadership matchups.

Speaker:  Tillis vs. ?????   The speaker — who owes his political ascendancy in Raleigh to Richard Morgan and his clique — has been caught numerous times boasting about — and actually — meddling in the primaries of fellow Republicans.  According to one Jones Street insider, and fan of this site:

“There’d be some pretty in-depth debate and discussion in committee, and Tillis would send in stooges to tell everyone, basically, if you want fundraising and political help during the next election cycle, HERE is how it’s going to be.  It’s a dictatorship from within the speaker’s office.  What’s the point of having elected members, working in committees, and voting on the floor, if all of the shots are being called by Thom Tillis and a few unelected flunkies on his staff?”

Another long-time NCGOP insider tells me that — despite the grumbling about Tillis and his antics — it is unlikely he will be deposed this time, thanks in no small part to the arrival of so many new faces in the caucus and his donations during the campaign.  So, unless some real surprise comes out of left field, we’ve likely got two more years of Thom Tillis at the podium.

Speaker Pro Tem: Stam vs. Jones vs Howard.  The retirement of conservative stalwart Dale Folwell  creates an opening in the House’s #2 slot.  Current Majority Leader Skip Stam is seeking to move up to fill the slot.  Julia Howard, a close ally and friend of Thom Tillis and Richard Morgan, is also seeking this post.  Bert Jones, a conservative from Rockingham County who first ran for the House as an Independent, who then caucused with the GOP, then ran for reelection as a Republican, is also stepping into the fray.

The rub against Stam I hear is that he plays way too nice with the Democrats.  One House insider tells me:

“When Skip was minority leader, the caucus would have strategy meetings, then he’d go over to Joe Hackney and tell him what we were doing.  It’s the old small-town courthouse mentality where all of the lawyers are buddies and scratch each other’s backs.  This is the big time.  It’s war up here.  The other side will smile to your face, but shove a knife in your back when you turn to walk away.”

Julia Howard is likely Team Tillis’s choice for the speaker pro tem post.  First, there is a huge push among the GOP establishment to have more “lady parts” in leadership roles.  (After all, in the last election, the Democrats told us it’s not the economy, stupid.  It’s ALL ABOUT the lady parts.)  Second, Howard and Tillis are both part of the Richard Morgan political clique.  Howard supported Morgan’s power-sharing deal with former speaker and ex-con Jim Black, and helped scuttle many pieces of conservative legislation during that period.  Tillis was recruited by Morgan to run in a primary against Morgan foe, and conservative stalwart, John Rhodes. 

My insider sources tell me that Jones is the best bet for conservatives seeking some representation in House leadership.

Majority Leader: Lewis vs. Samuelson vs. Starnes.    A plan to split this job into two pieces was leaked a few weeks back.  The scenario featured the possibility of Lewis handling the legislative side, while Samuelson would handle the fundraising and campaign stuff.  Edgar Starnes of Caldwell County has jumped into the fray — throwing a potential monkeywrench into this backroom deal.

Rep. Davis Lewis of Harnett County represents North Carolina at the RNC, and is a favorite of a lot of people within the so-called religious right.  One Jones Street insider and friend of this site, who asked not to be identified, has described Lewis as “a scandal waiting to happen.”

Ruth Samuelson, from Charlotte, has been serving as the House Majority Whip.  Insiders describe her as a RINO who is only good on the issue of abortion.   If she is unsuccessful here, she is likely to keep her Whip position.

People are giving me mixed reviews on Edgar Starnes.  Some of my more libertarian friends and readers show some disappointment with him.  I have heard from some current and former legislators — whose conservatism is not in dispute and whose insight I trust and respect — offering a different perspective on Starnes.  One former legislator who served with Starnes tells me:

“Edgar’s been a quiet guy.  But he is a principled conservative.  He’s not going along with any squishy, go-along, get-along RINO ideas like reparations.  I think he’d honestly stand up to McCrory if he starts pushing something a little squishy.  When compared to what we’ve had leading the House, and the candidates we’re looking at this time, I’d say Edgar Starnes is the best bet for conservatives. ”

When pressed, my inside sources tell me that the majority leader’s race is David “Scandal Waiting to Happen” Lewis’ to lose.