Recent actions by Speaker Thom Tillis have riled eastern North Carolinians.  Many wonder why the Speaker of the House would be meddling in their local State House and Senate races.  Is he doing it for money? For his ego? Nay, I say.  Rather, we must ask the age old question:  Cui bono?

To understand why he’s meddling, we have to look at the Speaker’s goals and then figure out how his meddling could help him achieve those goals.  It’s like a puzzle.  You have to see the big picture on the box before the pieces start to make sense.  The picture on the Tillis’ box looks like this:

capitol

All this meddling is being done for a reason.  Speaker Tillis is trying to build a bridge.  A bridge, he hopes, that will carry him from North Carolina to Washington D.C.  The trouble for Tillis is that he’s building that bridge on a crumbling foundation, the coalition of so-called moderates or former blue-dog Democrats in Eastern North Carolina, the coalition that kept Marc Basnight in power for more than two decades.

It’s widely expected that Tillis will seek the Republican nomination for the US Senate seat held by Kay Hagan in 2014.  He and President Pro Tem Berger are the only names being talked about this early in the process.  He’s trying to lock up support in eastern NC among both Republicans and Democrats by playing both sides of the aisle.  His strategy is two pronged.  It involves (1) the giving of political favors to eastern NC Democratic Reps and (2) encouraging ousted eastern NC Democrats to switch parties and then supporting them in General Assembly races in return for support in 2014.

Of late, he’s been courting the five swing Democrats who helped to override Perdue’s budget veto last year.  Two of those are from Eastern NC:  Bill Owens and Tim Spear.  By extension, he’s also courting Stan White whose Senate district covers both of their House Districts.   Tillis wants to pass a voter id bill and is willing to neuter it just to garner their votes and put that feather in his cap.  He can only get their votes if the bill is so worthless that they sign on.  But their willingness to sign on to the voter id bill may have more to do with building bridges than with voting integrity.  The interests of the eastern NC Reps and Tillis converged on the budget.  The Eastern NC Reps may have been willing to give a little on Voter ID to get what they wanted out of the budget.  Tillis wanted to pass a veto-proof budget so he made sure that funding for the mid-Currituck Bridge was in the bill that passed the House.  The bridge is highly prized by commercial interests in eastern NC, particularly those involved in the property rental business like Stan White.  The funding for that bridge was later cut by the Senate and not reinstated in the final bill. It was not reinstated because it was learned that a forged letter from the DOT Chief Operating Officer Jim Trogdon was used by Senator Stan White to try and bolster the case that the bridge funds were needed this year when in fact Trogdon had said just the opposite, that the Mid-Currituck bridge funds were NOT needed this year.  An investigation into the forged letter is underway.  But Tillis came out of that smelling like a rose. He was seen as doing all that he could to help Owens, Spear and White, earning their trust and support going forward.

To further his bridge building in eastern NC, Tillis encouraged ousted eastern NC Democrats to switch parties and run for a General Assembly seat.   Once elected, they would be expected to support Tillis in 2014 and bring along their old Democrat and new Republican friends.  That strategy gave us Jerry Evans (Senate District 1), Randy Ramsey (House District 2) and Arthur Williams (House District 6), all of whom lost in the primary to more conservative candidates. Unfortunately for us, the House 6 race featured a spoiler in the person of Jeremy Adams who cost the primary winner, Mattie Lawson, votes in her home county of Dare.  The winning margin was not enough for Ms. Lawson (who was outspent 4 to 1) to avoid a runoff.  Ignoring the facts that his candidates were soundly defeated in May, Tillis is pushing ahead with his strategy, doing all that he can to help Arthur Williams win the runoff, even going to far as to enlist Congressman Walter “Do Nothing” Jones in the mess, asking Jones to endorse Williams.  It’s his last stand and he’s pulling out all the stops.

What the Speaker has failed to realize is that Eastern North Carolina is no longer Basnight Blue. Eastern North Caroilna is an informed, energized, conservative Tea Party stronghold.  We will not accept politics as usual.  We won’t be bought.  We won’t be manipulated.  And we won’t be quiet.  But we will do one thing, Speaker Tillis.  We will help you build your bridge to nowhere.

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