Back home after what N.C. Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico, called “a historic session in Raleigh this year,” he and N.C. Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, spoke and took questions from residents on Friday.
Serving in new legislative posts during a year of sweeping change, neither man ruffled from criticism and both conceded some compromise is essential to get the job done during the event sponsored by the Pamlico County Republican Party.
Touted as a town hall meeting, more than 80 people attended.
Some praised the pair for tax reforms they feel have already enhanced the state’s ability to recruit business. Others were critical over funding for education, Medicaid and unemployment benefits.
Sanderson said he sees the possibility of a special legislative session to deal with some changes in the tax code, which have “caused an outcry loud and far. We started working on the bill, but the law passed is not the end of it.”
While there were no “personal attacks,” there was disagreement, including one person who called the lawmakers’ actions on education, Medicaid and unemployment benefits “morally indefensible” and asked that they “please reconsider these things.”
Speciale said: “We did not expand Medicaid because the Medicaid system in North Carolina is broken” and “I think it is a moral obligation to not spend people’s money they don’t have. There is 30 percent fraud in the system and that is not a smart way to spend money.”
Sanderson said he agreed, and pointed to “a lot of fraud and administrative cost higher than any other state in the Southeast.”
Speciale said that education accounted for 53 percent of the state budget, and at $12.8 billion, was double the $6 billion spent in 2000.
He said he was a product of public schools and believes in them, but also supports school choice. Speciale also said that, in his own experience, “there were no teacher assistants except in kindergarten. Studies have shown that not having teacher assistants does nothing to the academic success of the kids.”
One speaker said she wanted to know what studies Speciale was looking at.
Scolded by one speaker about published comments Speciale made on the House floor during debate about puppy mill legislation that he initially supported, then voted against, the first-term legislator told the questioner that his comments were “sarcasm” and “quoted out of context.”
He urged those concerned to go to the General Assembly’s website where session recordings for the March 4 debate on House Bill 930 could be heard.
“I don’t talk much on the House floor, but when I do, people listen,” he said, adding that his point was that the bill had been “watered down” to the extent it would be impossible to enforce.
Pamlico Community College trustee Larry Prescott thanked both legislators, saying the state “did fund community colleges with more money this year, and that is very appreciated,” he said.
Prescott also said that in a state meeting in Wilmington last week of community college trustees, Bob Jolly of the N.C. Institute of Government provided an overview of the Voter ID law that passed with support from Sanderson and Speciale. That presentation dispelled “a lot of misconceptions. That presentation needs to be published,” Prescott said.
Speciale said strict enforcement of the new Voter ID law does not come until 2016 and that those coming to the polls without a photo ID in 2014 will be personally advised on how to get one for free.
“A lot of effort went into this bill to make sure no one would be disenfranchised,” he said. “We did cut back on early voting — it’s expensive and hard on folks who work with the elections.”
There will be fewer days to vote, but the same number of hours to vote early.
“The purpose of the bill is voter integrity,” Speciale said. “With same-day registration, it is impossible to verify … and ripe for fraud.”
He said there would still be absentee voting for those who don’t want to stand in line or who are registered and don’t have photo ID.
Sanderson and Speciale said they plan to continue participating — perhaps even organizing — events like the Friday forum to keep the lines of communication open.
“You think you will be in constant communication with your constituents,” Sanderson said. “Then you get to Raleigh and there is something happening all the time and finding time to call and answer every email is hard to find.”
Sue Book is a reporter for the Sun Journal.