01/25/07 — Local delegations ready to get to work in Raleigh

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Local delegations ready to get to work in Raleigh

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on January 25, 2007 1:51 PM

RALEIGH -- If visitors to the state capital didn't know better, they might have thought Wednesday's opening session of the 2007 General Assembly was a take-your-family-to-work day as children, grandchildren and spouses had a more-or-less free run of the state legislature building. The only sign that the state's business was about to get under way were the stern sergeants-at-arm maintaining a loose modicum of order.

And for the Wayne and Duplin counties' delegations, the fun of opening day was accompanied by a look ahead to the business that will begin this week.

"It's kind of a festive day," Sen. John Kerr, D-Wayne County, said, after being sworn in for the 11th time. "It's a day for the families and the constituents. There's a lot of camaraderie."

Even partisan divides are, for the most part, set aside -- something not hard to do when children are sitting in the aisles, some playing Gameboys, some paying rapt attention and babies are being fussed over and taken out crying.

Sen. Fred Smith, R-Wayne County, compared it to two teams playing football.

"When you're on the football field there's the time to hit. When issues come up we'll have debate. But off the field and outside the chambers, we should all act like gentlemen," he said.

That time for debate will come soon enough.

"The legislature is little like a steam engine. It takes a little while to get it started," Kerr said. "The work will start later. Every session has different issues and problems. The hard decisions start later."

Among the items facing the legislature this year are Medicaid relief, alternative revenue streams for counties, school construction, water and sewer infrastructure needs, transportation and road problems, alternative energy needs, economic development and a new budget.

"There's plenty of work to do," Sen. Charlie Albertson, D-Duplin County, said. "There's a lot of challenges, but there's a lot of opportunities, too."

"This is the end of a long election process, but it's also a beginning. It's the beginning of two years of hard work," Rep. Russell Tucker, D-Duplin County, chimed in.

But before they could begin that work there were a few preliminaries that had to be addressed.

In the House, it was time to elect a new speaker after Rep. Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg County, declined to run for a record fifth term. This year, Rep. Joe Hackney, D-Orange County, received the nod by a 68 to 52 vote margin.

In the Senate, it was time to re-elect Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare County, for the eighth time.

Both votes came and went without incident -- a pleasing turn of events for many of those, especially the young children and other family members, seated on the floors and in the galleries of the two chambers.

"There were absolutely no surprises and that's the way we like it," said Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson County, whose district includes part of Wayne County. "With the leadership we have now, we're off to a good start."

But perhaps none in the Wayne or Duplin County delegations was off to as good a start as freshman Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir County, who was sitting on the House floor for only the second time in his life.

"They brought us in here for orientation and I've been in the gallery just a couple of times, so this is exciting," he said as his fellow representatives filed in and found their seats. "I'm excited. I'm excited and ready to get going.

"The biggest thing this means to me is that the campaign is formally over and now we turn to governing. That's what the campaign was all about. A lot of people are with me and are pulling for me to do good for the area and just do what politicians should do and that's look to the people for what they want."

After being sworn in with his wife, Sandra, holding the large, white family Bible he used three times on the Kinston City Council, Braxton was even more excited -- and a little relieved -- after he got his first vote out of the way.

Actually it was his second. His first was a voice vote for Hackney. His second was an electronic vote on the rules package.

"It was good to get that first vote out of the way," Braxton said. "I just wanted to make sure I pushed the right button."

But just because the other legislators were old hats, that didn't mean the day didn't make an impression on them, too.

"It's always very special," Albertson said. "It always has meaning.

"You sit in there and you take the oath of office and it reminds you of what your responsibilities are. It's a great honor and that just kind of hits you sometimes and it did today."

And most of delegates had children and grandchildren at their side.

Sharing that experience with Rep. Louis Pate, R-Wayne County, was his wife, Joyce. Like each of his three previous swearing-ins, she stood with him as he took the oath of office, promising to uphold the state's and the country's laws, as well as the state and national constitutions.

"That's always a special moment for me," he said. "It's an honor to serve the people of Wayne County. I'm energized to do what I can for them and for the state."

They and the rest of the delegation only hope those good feelings, that energy and the spirit of bi-partisanship that ruled the day Wednesday will continue.

"There's plenty to do, but we've got a pretty impressive group of people up here," Kerr said. "It's a good time to be alive and it's a good time to try and help people.

"We've got to work to make one North Carolina. We've got to do the best we can while we're here."