Charlotte-area Republican Thom Tillis, who represents Cornelius, was chosen by fellow GOP House members Saturday to become the next speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives.
Meeting in Raleigh, the GOP caucus considered several candidates including Tillis and Wake County’s Skip Stam. The former House minority leader, Stam was regularly outspoken on LGBT issues and pushed hard for the anti-gay marriage amendment. He also stood firmly opposed to 2009’s School Violence Prevention Act and Healthy Youth Act. Those bills added LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policies to every school district in the state and provided for comprehensive, abstinence-based sex education, respectively.
“We went (into the leadership election) unified, we came out unified, and I have every reason to believe that’s why we’re going into the legislative session and make history,” Tillis said after the vote, according to The Charlotte Observer.
Stam will serve next session as House majority leader. Winston-Salem’s Dale Folwell was chosen as speaker pro tem. The House will undertake formal votes when it returns in January. The North Carolina House is controlled by Republicans 68-52.
Come January, North Carolina’s LGBT community could face the most significant threats it’s ever seen. Several long-serving Republican legislators have pushed annually for an anti-gay, state constitutional amendment on marriage. That bill has been held up in committee for seven years, with former Democratic leadership unwilling to give it a hearing. With Democrats out of the way, GOP House or Senate members might decide to bring it to the floor.
Hopes are high that Tillis, who is praised even by Democrats for his level-headedness and bi-partisanship, will focus largely on economic recovery, job growth and state budget matters.
In a report this week by FOX Charlotte, however, Rep. Ruth Samuelson (R-Mecklenburg) said she foresees the amendment coming to a vote.
“There probably will be legislation that has been held up in the past that will finally see the light of day,” she told the news station. “After we deal with the budget, and after we deal with redistricting, anything that has 70 percent or more of NC’s citizens in support of it will probably get some attention.”
A 2009 poll by Elon University of 620 North Carolina state residents found 43 percent of respondents opposed such an amendment to the constitution.
Some House Republicans, including Stam, have also said they intend on seeking repeal of the School Violence Prevention Act and Healthy Youth Act.
At their annual conference on Nov. 13, Equality North Carolina’s Ian Palmquist said new GOP legislative leadership provides for new opportunities for outreach. He said the state could spend as much as $5 million to place the amendment question on the ballot. He hopes his group can appeal to fiscal conservatives within the GOP who might be uncomfortable spending that kind of money in such a tight economic climate. The state faces at least a $3 billion budget shortfall next year.
Equality NC has also spent years building relationships with GOP lawmakers and constituents. A former executive director of the group identifies as a Republican, and the current Equality NC Board chair, Dan Gurley, is a former executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party. Some outreach has already begun with potential GOP House and Senate leaders, some of whom are stressing economic improvement over social policy.