In case you missed it, the editorial pages of multiple major news outlets across the state are decrying North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore’s recent remarkable decision to strip his fellow Republican lawmaker — Rep. Julia Howard — of her position as co-chair of the powerful House Finance Committee.
As you’ve probably heard by now, Moore took the extremely unusual action in response to Howard’s opposition to a controversial proposal that would bestow tax breaks on people who received federal Paycheck Protection Program loans in response to the COVID-19 recession. Among other things, Howard has expressed concern that several lawmakers stand to benefit directly from the bill. The battle was mostly fought out in secret in the House Republican caucus, but later came at least partially to light in public.
A Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com entitled “Legislator’s demotion highlights backroom deal, potential conflicts of interest” makes it clear the whole thing stinks:
Here’s the rub. The House Republican Caucus has NO official standing (same goes for the Democrats’ caucus). It does not meet in public. There are no publicly available recorded votes. Nothing done or said in those secret sessions is open to the scrutiny of the people legislators represent, the voters who put them into office or the news reporters who can shine light onto what they say and do.
Now Howard’s constituents have had their representative knocked down and on the outs with the leadership. All executed in back room deals.
Howard was right for raising her concerns. Her only fault is that she didn’t do it more prominently, in detail, in an open and public forum and on the record.
Service in the General Assembly – or any other elective office – is a public trust. It is not a secret society where deals that benefit those public servants are cut outside of the public view. More and more the closed party caucuses are the forums where the REAL debates over policy and legislation occur. Public sessions are choreographed displays that too often disguise the true intent and issues at hand.
Before this bill leaves the General Assembly EVERY legislator should disclose, in detail, if they or their businesses have PPP loans, how much and, ANY benefit they might gain if it becomes law. Legislation should be debated in the appropriate forums of open committee meetings and public chamber sessions.
The Winston-Salem Journal and Greensboro News & Record put it this was in an editorial entitled “Speaker Moore should not cancel Rep. Howard”:
State legislators don’t give up their day jobs when they serve. Dozens of them run their own businesses. It’s likely that they were perfectly justified in participating in the same assistance that others were offered, and in passing a relief bill in which they would be among the beneficiaries. That was the conclusion of an ethics committee investigation.
But Howard was standing on principle, and an important one: It doesn’t look good for our legislators to be dealing financial advantages to themselves. And not only does it not look good, but it’s a practice that could open the door to casual corruption.
Conscience in the service of the people is a benefit, not a deficit.
Moore also removed Howard from leadership positions in 2015 — after she voted for his competition at the time to be House Speaker.
It sounds as if Moore knows how to carry a grudge.
And this is Raleigh’s News & Observer in “The clumsy punishment of a high-ranking Republican woman”:
There has long been a sentiment among women lawmakers that they face an uphill battle to gain an equal voice and respect in the legislature. It’s not solely a Republican issue, and according to female lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, it includes women being steered toward softer issues and being asked, with frequency: “Who’s watching your kids?”
Thankfully, as more women win their way into office, their collective voice has become stronger. Still, Moore should reconsider his clumsy response to Howard. It’s a bad look for a Republican party that’s struggled with women voters and shown particular vulnerability of late with college-educated women. It also sends the wrong message about welcoming thoughtful dissent — and in this case, dissent that comes from a strong woman.
Sadly, however, the matter feels like business as usual for the Republican-led General Assembly, a place where dissent, and even debate, are only rarely tolerated.