COPY-Cover Story: One-on-one with House Speaker Thom Tillis

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

HUNTERSVILLE, NC (WBTV) - The most prominent Republican in the North Carolina House is preparing for a showdown with Governor Bev Perdue and her veto pen.

Heading into extra innings of an historic legislative session, Speaker of the House Thom Tillis has a lot on his mind and a lot on his plate.

The GOP-controlled General Assembly is preparing to return for a special session.  They'll finalize the voting maps that'll determine North Carolina's political future.  And they'll try to override the many vetoes by the state's Democratic Governor.

The man leading the Republican charge is freshman House Speaker Thom Tillis, from Mecklenburg County.

We talked to him when he got the job.  In the seven months that followed, Tillis' troops made history and they made some political enemies.

Seven months in the fire. What's his frame of mind?  Fresh off one of the most active legislative sessions in decades we found Tillis to be quite refreshed.

Having accomplished most of what they set out to do Tillis and company are ready to put a punctuation mark on a plan which could ensure GOP control for awhile.

Thom Tillis who turns 51 next month became Speaker after only four years in the legislature.

He sought to run the House like a business.  The former management consultant - through a Republican caucus that stayed tight - pushed through bills that had never gotten a hearing under Democratic leadership for 140 years.

His proudest moment? Tillis said, "Passage of the budget in record time."  His biggest accomplishment? "Passage of the budget in record time," he repeated.

We caught up with Tillis in Huntersville late Wednesday afternoon - running between meetings.  He's been on the go since the session started in January.

It technically ended mid-June, but it's not over.

Lawmakers return to Raleigh next week to vote on new congressional and legislative district maps.

And the House will vote on several bills that Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed.  The Senate already voted to override six of Perdue's vetoes.

One of Perdue's vetoes, the Voter ID bill Tills told us they will take up even though Republicans may not have the two-thirds majority vote for an override.

"We want to make it very clear in the debate that three-fourths of North Carolinians want some Voter ID bill," Tills said.  "And we want to get people on record if they're going to oppose it then they're going to have to answer to the voters next year on that one."

Tillis says the House will also vote on bills that Perdue vetoed regarding regulatory reform.  A bill that made policy changes as the Employment Security Commission.  And one changing how the state's Medicaid program for the poor and disabled works.

We asked the House Speaker for his reaction about Wake Superior Court Judge Howard Manning's ruling.

Manning ruled this week that the state can't deny poor children in North Carolina access to the state-run four-year old pre-kindergarten program as spelled out in the GOP-budget.

"It's not necessary to deal with the judge's opinion," says Tillis.  "We'll move through that but I'm very confident that the underlying appropriations will remain the same."

What was surprising to Tillis as freshmen Speaker?  Bills that passed unanimously in the Senate when they arrived in the House there was no unanimity.

"That was probably the biggest disappointment," he said.  "Look we're a partisan organization. I expect partisan politics to play a role.  It's how the two-party system works but it seems like there were times that they were just picking things to go political for reasons other than good policy."

Gov. Perdue issued a record 15 vetoes this session, nine as the legislature was finishing its work and adjourning.

The House will take up four-to-six of those nine bills she vetoed.

And as they did with the budget Republicans will need some Democratic support to be able to override.

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