Remember that time back in 2011 when House Republicans accidentally left the microphones on in a committee room for their closed-door caucus meeting, and their words were broadcast in the Legislative Building’s press room?
For those of us lucky enough to be in the press room, that moment offered a rare glimpse into the talk that takes place as the majority party strategizes about legislation and other issues. Instead of often boring and predictable floor speeches, we received a small taste of how the political process really unfolds behind closed doors.
We heard Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, then the House majority leader, call then-Gov. Bev Perdue “incompetent.” And we heard then-House Speaker Thom Tillis talking about getting retribution against the N.C. Association of Educators, which was hammering Democrats who voted for the Republican budget.
It was awesome.
Recently, it’s almost as if someone accidentally left the audio on in the caucus room again and Rep. Justin Burr, an Albemarle Republican, picked up the microphone. Burr has used social media and interviews with several media outlets to openly criticize House Speaker Tim Moore of Kings Mountain and members of his leadership team about how they’re steering the GOP ship in the General Assembly.
Burr said Moore has aligned himself with a group of personal friends in the House, marginalizing more conservative House members and “pushing an agenda that does not align with the Republican’s promises to be efficient and effective with the taxpayers’ dollars.” Burr also said the speaker “proposed new pork spending and additional corporate welfare,” both of which have been detailed in news articles. And he threw in some barbs about how long the 2015 session dragged on and the relatively low number of bills passed.
Moore responded by calling Burr “disgruntled” and said his constituents deserve better.
“They’re not reflective of the reality,” the speaker said of Burr’s comments. “Rep. Burr has chosen to make himself ineffective and irrelevant this entire session.”
Moore also said he believes the 2015 session was very productive. Rep. Charles Jeter, a Mecklenburg County Republican and chairman of the House Republican Conference, told the Associated Press that the dispute was an “internal family squabble” that he wished had remained private. There are probably just as many House Republicans who wished the General Assembly had taken a more moderate approach to legislation, Jeter told the AP.
Burr responded to Moore’s comments in an interview with conservative talk show host Chad Adams.
“It’s scary to think that members of the legislature, if we speak out and express concerns about how things are going in Raleigh, that we automatically get attacked by the speaker and he basically encourages our defeat from office,” Burr said.
Moore has said a “handful” of House Republicans “like to complain.” Burr has said there are many more unhappy House members, but they’re afraid to speak out.
Is this a minor insurrection or an all-out civil war in the House Republican Caucus? Or is it just a power play from the more conservative wing of the caucus to try to wrest control from Moore and his supporters after 2016?
None of that is clear yet.
But it’s awesome because we don’t often get to see such political disputes in public.
And it’s going to be fun to watch unfold next year.
Patrick Gannon writes about North Carolina government and politics for the Capitol Press Association.