Lawmakers are humans too

By Patrick Gannon | Aug 04, 2014

Lawmakers Are Humans, Too," by Patrick Gannon

RALEIGH – It's easy to see state legislators as partisan politicians driven by egos and personal or special interests. That's typically what the rhetoric from either side of the political spectrum makes them out to be.

But at least once during every two-year legislative session the general public gets a glimpse of the lawmakers' human sides. That happened last week, as House and Senate members not returning to the General Assembly next year said goodbyes on their chamber floors. As with any goodbyes, laughs were common, tears were shed. Applause followed every speech.

At least six current Senate members and 11 House members won't return next year. They either lost primaries, decided to retire or, as in the case of House Speaker Thom Tillis and others, are running for different offices. Additional members will lose re-election bids in November.

This year's farewell speeches began with Rep. Annie Mobley, an Ahoskie Democrat, who said she wished no one knew legislators' party affiliations and that it wasn't so difficult to vote against the wishes of party leadership. "Vote however it is that you know your constituents would want you to vote," she said. (Wouldn't that be something?).

Mobley added that God called her to serve in the Legislature. She told House members that she loved all of them because her Bible tells her that's necessary to get into heaven. "I don't like a lot of you, but I love everybody," she said to laughs.

Rep. Marcus Brandon, a two-term Democrat now running to become High Point mayor, said what he wanted to work on most as a legislator was "civility." The biggest threat to the country isn't a nuclear Iran or North Korea, but political parties that can't get along and people that can't work together, he said. Serving in the House was the "hardest thing I've ever done" and the "greatest thing I've ever done," Brandon said.

Rep. Alma Adams, the longest-serving Democratic woman in the House who now is running for Congress, said her tenure taught her to value the lives of all North Carolinians, especially the "least of these." Service, Adams said, is the "rent we pay for living on this Earth."

Sen. Malcolm Graham, a Charlotte Democrat, said his departure was not a goodbye to public life, "just a temporary vacation." An avid tennis player and family man, Graham said being a public servant "is not who I am, it's what I do."

Demonstrating mutual respect between Senate Republicans and Democrats (well, at least some of them), Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Randolph County Republican, told Graham that he was one of the best orators in the House. "You never made a speech I didn't like, and I don't think you ever made one that I agreed with," Tillman said to laughter.

Rep. W.A. "Winkie" Wilkins, a Person County Democrat and 10-year veteran of the Legislature, said he looked back at his 2005 General Assembly photograph. "I had hair then," he said. Wilkins also said 88 of the 120 House members from 2005 are no longer in the Legislature and that 11 people he served with through the years are dead. "I have memories of each, and after I'm gone, maybe you'll remember me," he said, choking up. "Thank you."

A recent poll by Public Policy Polling showed the General Assembly with a 19 percent approval rating. Perhaps that number might be higher if everyone heard those speeches – at least until next year's session.