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Friday, November 12, 2010

Skip Stam: Too late, Dems, for us to be fair on redistricting

Posted by on Fri, Nov 12, 2010 at 1:27 PM

Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake
  • Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake
Your Wake Republicans were in excellent spirits last night as they gathered in North Raleigh to salute their conquering candidates, especially Paul (Skip) Stam, the House minority leader in the current General Assembly who is battling to be the House Speaker come January. (More on his chances below.)

Stam threw out the red meat, promising swift action on the DOMA (Defense of Marriage Amendment), voter IDs, Right-to-Life license plates, more charter schools as well as tax credits for private-school tuitions, and a budget that slashes spending — no tax-rate increases, Stam promised.

In other words, everything the Republicans have been dreaming about, plus a partisan redistricting plan for House and Senate districts, notwithstanding Stam's long-held position that redistricting should be done by an independent, bipartisan commission. Lest his new stance be considered unfair, Stam has labeled it "fair" redistricting. See how that works? "Fair redistricting is so important," he said. "For the first time in 112 years, Republicans are going to get the right to draw the districts fairly and legally."

Stam seemed to chuckle a bit as he offered his Republican listeners some advice about the proper framing of this matter. "There's only two words we use to describe redistricting," he said. "Fairly, and legally."

***


This was a meeting of the Northern Wake Republican Club, and I must say it was impressive to hear outgoing club president Donna Williams announce that GOP volunteers made 332,000 telephone calls from the Republican campaign office on Spring Forest Road in just the final three weeks before Election Day. All tolled, Williams guessed, they'd made more than 1 million calls while also festooning the roadways with so many Republican signs that people could be forgiven for thinking that "Gurley" and "Bryan" must be slapping up tract housing all over the county. (Those little political signs on the roadways are no more legal than the little for-sale signs are, btw.)

Their efforts were needed because even with the national Republican tide, the slate of four GOP candidates for Wake Commissioners seats didn't win by all that much, and indeed U.S. Sen. Richard Burr barely carried Wake over Democrat Elaine Marshall.

That said, the Republicans are now in complete charge in the county (by 4-3 on the commissioners board, 5-4 on the school board) and in the state (68-52 in the House, a veto-proof 31-19 in the Senate). As Sheriff Donnie Harrison said, "The dog has caught the bus, now what's he going to with it?" Hard work ahead was Harrison's point.

Cue Stam, who is trying to become House Speaker, though I hear from a knowledgeable source that he won't get it because — wait for this one — he's not conservative enough. Yes, I mean Skip Stam the lifetime volunteer Right-to-Life lawyer and (I'm stealing this line from a Democratic pundit) unofficial leader of the GOP's Christian Temperance Caucus. But apparently Thom Tillis, the Charlotte Republican, is considered by many of his fellow Republicans to be a little bit smoother, a little more cut-throat, and less likely to yield to pangs of conscience about his partisanship than is our Stam — about whom we've not seen that many pangs, to be frank.

However, Stam did go out of his way last night to tell his audience of 150 Republicans that he was a principle co-sponsor of 22 bills in the current session on which there was also a Democratic principle co-sponsor. His job as minority leader, Stam said, is to be partisan on partisan bills but not to the point that he wouldn't work with the Democrats on "good government" bills. My source tells me the real knock on Stam from within his caucus is that he's a trial lawyer and is open to reform of the statutes in N.C. that stop plaintiffs from collecting in a lawsuit if they were even 1 percenr responsible (i.e., guilty of contributory negligence) for whatever happened to them.

I'm obviously not privy to much when it comes to the Stam-Tillis battle nor did Stam say a lot about it, not that he had to: If anybody in this room full of Wake Republicans wasn't supporting their hometown guy for Speaker, they kept it to themselves. Instead, Stam took questions about the upcoming legislative session, and credit his audience for raising every subject I'd have raised.

Stam's answers:

* The GOP will put the so-called Defense of Marriage Amendment (DOMA) on the ballot in 2012 and use it to drub the Democrats the same as the Bush campaign used it in 2004 to take Ohio and win a second term as president;

* They'll pass a requirement that registered voters must present an official ID at the polls before they're allowed to cast ballots. This should pacify Republican activists who lose sleep at night over the prospect that marauding Democrats will drive from precinct to precinct pretending to be people they somehow know won't be voting. (Or is this simply a cynical move to discourage voting by marginalized populations?)

* Yes, Stam has four times submitted legislation to create an independent bipartisan redistricting commission, preventing the kinds of ruthless partisan gerrymanders that politicians produce when they get to draw up the districts. But that was when the GOP was in the minority and the Democrats controlled redistricting. Now that the tables are turned, Stam said, he still favors a bipartisan commission — but it's too late to create one and get districts drawn in time for the 2012 elections. Why? Apparently because Stam wanted the state constitution amended to require an independent commission — a process that would indeed drag on too long. But why not create the commission by statute, with the Republican-controlled legislature pledging to accept its work? But you know what, Stam won't be elected leader of the Republicans by being that fair to the Democrats. (Not to mention to the voters.) No, Stam cracked, "I'd say that the Democrats have been hoist by their own petard."

* And that $3 billion budget gap? The Republicans will pass a budget with no tax-rate increases, only spending cuts. "It will not be popular," Stam warned, not stopping to explain that it will require cutting school aid, university budgets, social services programs and other things real people care about and depend upon. "That budget will be hugely unpopular, but we're doing to do it."

* Right-to-Life licence plates? "That's an easy sell," Stam said, because lots of people will buy them. "Why would you not do it?

* Healh-care reform? The GOP will move quickly on a bill to allow N.C. residents not to buy health insurance if they don't want it. The effect of that is effectively zero since the new federal health-care law requires it, but it will add North Carolina to the list of states challenging the constitutionality of a federal mandate to buy a private-sector product.

* Stam wasn't asked about charter schools, but a tip sheet he handed out included the Republican bill to repeal the law capping the number of charter schools at 100. It also listed H.B. 1988, which would create an income tax credit for part of the expense of sending kids to a private school or of home-schooling them. Supposedly this would "save" the taxpayers $50 million a year — "save" in the sense that if they all showed up at a public school, it would cost $50 million.

Stam did promise a rewrite of the ethics rules and legislative processes that would treat both parties fairly. "We are not going to treat the Democrats like they treated us," he said. "There are some Republicans who'd like us to, but we're not going to do it."

Still, he couldn't resist noting that the Democrats' current 68-52 hold on the House will flip in January to 68-52 Republican. Given that, he joked, if Republicans parcel out committee seats in the same proportions the Democrats used, no one will be able to say they weren't equally fair.

Sweet, thought the audience, smiling as one. "That's called the Golden Rule," Stam said.

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