The Day Pigs Fly
Priorities differ at the Legislature, which can often lead to long debates and infighting. Keeping everyone on message is critical to efficiently running the Speaker’s Office. But effectively coordinating the priorities of all 67 Republican members of the NC House, or at minimum the 61 needed to guarantee bill passage, for an entire session is as likely as pigs sprouting wings and flying. Fortunately, Speaker Thom Tillis has a drawer full of winged piglets in easy reach.
Spending any time at the NC General Assembly or around politics or government in general, you hear a lot about priorities. From huge policy initiatives to budget proposals, everything is boiled down to a few strategic bullet points or a catch-phrase to expedite the process while keeping everyone on message. The Speaker’s Office is no different – at least five signs adorn doors and walls throughout the Speaker’s suite with the House GOP’s 2011 mission statement:
“To develop a budget for North Carolina which brings spending into line with available revenues by identifying the proper and necessary functions of state government and then prioritizing them.”
A difference in priorities often leads to long and seemingly endless debate, especially when the House is in session. This past week legislators spent several hours negotiating a bill to reduce the length of North Carolina’s early voting period by a week while shifting the voting time from 9am-5pm to either 10am-6pm or 11am-7pm (with the option of which given to county boards of election). Watching from the floor, I heard concerns ranging from disparate impact on voters, to lengths of campaigns, to a need to reduce spending. And in what was a surprisingly fluid back-and forth, the House gave final approval to the bill 60-58, with several legislators lamenting the close vote and calling on the Governor Bev Perdue, who has her own set of priorities, to veto.
One priority that cuts across ideologies and party lines is that for office space and, perhaps more importantly, proximity. Quietly behind the scenes, legislators, committees, and even staffers press for and seek out better places to work and meet. My own “office” is the House Conference Room in the Speaker’s suite which I share with two other interns and a senior staffer who is still looking for permanent accommodations. Originally a sizable conference room, it was cut in half with a wall put up in the middle to create more office space. While the proximity is ideal, we often live a nomadic life as the room is needed and used throughout the week by the Speaker and other House members. But living as a nomad has its perks.
While the Speaker was filming his week in review in my “office” earlier this week, we were relocated to the conference table in his office. As a tangible token of one of the Speaker’s priorities, he often passes out small winged pigs to reporters, lobbyists, and interns alike (when he returned from taping the clip, he graced us with our own winged pig – though mine had already taken flight as I was accidentally handed an empty box). It is meant as a physical reminder to the Speaker’s staff and everyone passing through his office that this Legislature will effectively tackle the hard issues no one thought government would ever take on. That today the pigs will fly. It will be interesting to see just how many days of flight this summer will bring.
Check back in two weeks for my next blog post as I will be on a brief vacation-filled hiatus!