Being a state legislator is not your typical job. There’s no time clock to punch, and House members actually vary greatly in terms of how active they are in sponsoring legislation, for example, or participating in party leadership.
But everyone there knows that showing up for work is a fundamental part of being a state legislator. At a minimum — barring some legitimate excuse such as illness or family emergency – you need to be in your seat, ready to represent your constituents when we are in session.
That’s where I was on Wednesday, Sept. 11, at 8:30 am. Why wouldn’t I be? The day before, our Rules Chairman had announced from the dais that there would be votes that day. What’s more, there had been no email from the House speaker saying there wouldn’t be votes, a courtesy he had instituted and honored — for both Republicans and Democrats — as the session has dragged on through the summer, well past its expected end date.
For the past two months, we’ve been locked in a stalemate with the governor, who vetoed the state budget that had been approved in a bipartisan vote by the legislature this past spring.
Despite the stalemate, we have been passing legislation. Specifically, we’ve been approving “mini budget” bills: piecemeal legislation intended to avoid a Washington-style government shutdown in our state. A “mini budget” bill to fund disaster recovery had been introduced on Tuesday in the House appropriations committee, of which I am co-chairman, and I fully expected to vote and pass on Wednesday.
So I was very surprised when few Democrats showed up for work on Wednesday. Speaker Moore has made it known for weeks that he would call a vote to override the governor’s veto of the budget when he saw the opportunity. He called the vote, and I voted for it, because this budget is good for the people of North Carolina.
It provides teacher raises for the seventh consecutive year, and it allocates $4.4 billion over the next decade for statewide school construction – $21 million of that for Union County Schools, including $400 million for community college capital funding- $5 million for the Aseptic Training center at Southern Piedmont Community College. There’s $30 million to expand rural broadband, $15 million to fight the opioid epidemic, $6 million to clear a backlog of rape kits, $4.5 million to help recruit healthcare providers to rural areas, $2 million for a prescription drug assistance program for the uninsured, $2 million to fight human trafficking, and more.
But all that is being held political hostage by the governor, who has taken the extreme stance of insisting that we spend hundreds of millions more to expand Medicaid, consistent with the national Democrats’ stated goal of forcing states to expand Obamacare, cleverly disguising it as Medicaid expansion.
Overriding the governor’s veto was the right thing to do for North Carolina. There may have been some confusion on the part of the House minority leader, who told his caucus they didn’t need to come to work on Wednesday. But there was absolutely no dishonesty on the part of Republican leadership.
And for the record: contrary to reports in the national media, most House Democrats were not absent Wednesday because they were attending 9/11 remembrance ceremonies. In fact, one Democrat legislator shouted on the House floor that the missing members were downstairs, discussing redistricting plans – something specifically forbidden by a recent court order calling for map redrawing to be done as openly and transparently as possible.
No, being a state legislator is not your typical job. There’s no time clock to punch, but the way I see it, I’ve got more than 76,000 bosses to answer to back in Union County. On Wednesday, Sept. 11, I showed up for work, and I voted to keep the state moving forward for them and the people of North Carolina.
Rep. Dean Arp (R-Union) is serving his fourth term in the state House. He served for 12 years on the Union County school board, including six as chairman.