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Meanwhile in our nation's capital 

It has been difficult to sort out the new Congress without a scorecard, but if anything was noticeable in the first week or so, it was the splitting of what had been a solid GOP bloc.

The best evidence of that in the state GOP delegation came on a vote to raise the federal minimum wage. Eighth District Rep. Robin Hayes of Concord and Sixth District Rep. Howard Coble of Greensboro joined 80 other Republicans in voting for the hike. Coble and Third District Rep. Walter Jones also announced they would oppose the president's call for 21,000 more troops in Iraq.

A few more highlights from those first 100 hours:

  • Tenth District Rep. Patrick McHenry tussled with Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank in McHenry's new self-appointed role as GOP pit bull. If you've seen the clip, the word pit bull does not come to mind. The phrase "Hey, Spike!" does.

  • Eleventh District Rep. Heath Shuler won a deputy at-large whip post, but that didn't stop him from voting against a leadership-sponsored bill supporting stem cell research. Fellow Democrat Seventh District Rep. Mick McIntyre and all of the state GOP delegation also voted against the measure.

  • McIntyre has introduced a resolution that calls for federal recognition of the Lumbee, which could send hundreds of millions in federal aid to the tribe. It would also allow the tribe to enter into a casino contract with the state of North Carolina for a shiny new gaming palace just off of I-95.

  • Jones finally got paid back for coming out against the war too early. He was skipped over for a key Defense Committee post. Jones didn't break stride, though, and has introduced a measure requiring specific congressional authorization for any attack on Iran.

  • Rumblings out of Charlotte this week have revived speculation that Ninth District Rep. Sue Myrick might not seek re-election, possibly to run for governor.

  • Twelfth District Rep. Mel Watt will take over as chair of the oversight subcommittee of the Financial Services Committee.
Fair and balanced

I suppose I could call Joe Hackney and ask him how he feels about being described as "prickly," "frosty" and a "Chapel Hill liberal." But, I'm not gonna. It's the kind of thing that makes him prickly.

I thought it was a little weird that the people calling the likely next speaker such names soon after his nomination weren't his enemies, but rather members of the press. Maybe it's because I wrote for the hometown paper, that I've never found him to be as recently described. Judicious with his opinion? Yeah. Not fond of political chit-chat? Sure.

But get him talking about something he's interested in, like the relationship of air quality to childhood asthma rates or whether the legislature has the right to tell the university what to teach, and he'll tell you plenty.

If, as predicted, Hackney is named speaker when the legislature convenes Jan. 24, the state will have someone much more interested in ideas and policy than the political chessboard.

Acronym alert

The General Assembly session hasn't started yet, but committee work has and a group looking at school construction needs last week studied proposed legislation that would set up a new array of revenue streams, including a real estate transfer tax. The legislation would also increase regulatory authority, allowing counties to create adequate public facility ordinances, or APFOs.

Each county would have to hold a referendum on whether to opt into the new system. Counties that already have local option real estate transfer taxes and special impact fee arrangements would have to choose either the new system or their current one.

The adequate public facilities ordinances would allow counties to tie construction permits to available seats in the classroom.

Look for a major battle over this as the powerful homebuilders and real estate lobbies get involved. Any kind of transfer tax or impact tax has been met with fierce opposition because it captures the value of the home.

Rest of the team

In addition to voting in Hackney as their speaker nominee last week, Democrats chose Hugh Holliman of Lexington to fill Hackney's old post of majority leader. William Wainwright of Havelock, co-chair of the House Finance Committee, was named speaker pro tem.


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