12/14/06 — Legislators say Black made right decision

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Legislators say Black made right decision

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on December 14, 2006 1:45 PM

Although surprised, state representatives for Wayne and surrounding counties thought that House Speaker Jim Black's announcement that he would not seek the position again this year was the right thing for him to do.

"He dropped that on us (Tuesday) evening. Nobody knew what he was going to talk about. I think it caught everybody by surprise," House Democrat Whip Larry Bell said. "But I think in light of the situation, with the possibility of him being indicted and all that, it was in the best interests for him to resign.

"When you have such a cloud over a position like speaker, it makes it hard to gain the confidence of the state."

Rep.-elect Van Braxton, D-District 10, agreed. Of the local representatives he had been the most outspoken in his opposition to Black's effort to remain speaker.

"I think it was a good move on his part. I think it was an admirable move on his part," Braxton, who represents Greene, Lenoir and Wayne counties, said. "Whether he's guilty or innocent -- and unfortunately in politics you're guilty until you're proven innocent -- I think he put the state in front of his own wants and desires. I think he was a good speaker, and I think he saw that him trying to be speaker again would be controversial."

Black, a Democrat Mecklenburg County representative, is still under federal investigation for his part in campaign contribution scandals and his connections to the lottery and optometry industries.

However, he will keep his seat in the House.

"He's got a wealth of experience and knowledge," Braxton said. "I think he'll still be a leader in the House."

But his bowing out of the speaker race has thrown open the door for one of a number of candidates to succeed him.

"I think it's up for grabs," said Bell, the District 21 representative for Sampson and Wayne counties.

Of the six or seven candidates vying for the position, he added, he now considers House Majority Leader Joe Hackney of Orange County, former Speaker Dan Blue of Wake County and chief budget writer Jim Crawford of Granville County -- all Democrats -- to be the front runners.

"I could be surprised, but I think one of those will be the leader," he said. "I feel we'll come up with somebody who'll lead just as well."

Whoever it is, most Democrats agree that the important thing now is that they select somebody without too much controversy.

"I think it's going to make it easier (to form a consensus)," Bell said. "You probably had some who would not have supported the speaker under any circumstances. I don't think you'll have that with these who are running.

"I think once they pick someone you'll see everyone falling in line. At least that's what I hope because I'd like to see us (the Democrat Caucus) united."

The Democrat Caucus is expected to hold a preliminary meeting sometime next week, Bell continued, but probably won't select a candidate until January.

The Republican Caucus, which is meeting Sunday in Greensboro, could select its candidate then.

But with the Democrats holding a strong 68 to 53 majority, Rep. Louis Pate, R-District 11, thinks Black stepping aside has probably made it harder for the Republicans to influence the speaker race.

Still, the Wayne County representative thinks it was the right decision.

"I think he's done an admirable job as speaker, but I think under the circumstances, it's the best thing for the House that he not be the speaker again. The integrity of the House is what is of ultimate concern, and I think it's time for a new face up there."

The speaker will be elected on Jan. 24, the first day of the General Assembly's new session.

"This will keep us from possibly have a fight over this," Braxton said. "Now we can move forward and select a speaker and do what we need to do for the state and work on education and jobs. There's also talk about a budget shortfall and there's a lot of things we need to address.

"That did not need to be one of them."