A few thousand wary eyes are peeled for what’s in the set of changes to the operating rules of the N.C. House now under consideration. The promise, in theory, is a more open environment where bills no longer get tangled up in the Rules Committee and each has a review on the merits in an appropriate venue.

But in politics, an up or down vote, whether in committee or on the floor, can be a two-edged sword. One group worried that under the new rules they’ll be looking at the business end of that sword are those concerned about attempts to force a change in the state’s constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage.

North Carolina and Florida are now the only Southern states to have not brought the issue of gay marriage to a vote of the people. GOP strategists know these referendums split Democratic Party coalitions and drive conservatives, particularly evangelical Christians, to the polls. New House Minority Leader Skip Stam, who has fewer GOP votes to work with than his predecessors, would count such a spot on the 2008 ballot as a major win.

Over the years, Democrats have been divided on the issue, but progressives have been able to keep the matter from coming up for a vote by getting the leadership to hold the bills. The worry among those opposed to amending the constitution is that once the train leaves the station, it’s hard to stop. Virginia and South Carolina had referendums pass with ease in the last cycle. Even Wisconsin, a progressive bastion, lost the battle in 2006.

Gov. Mike Easley has already said that he would sign a bill putting a referendum on the ballot. If it gets that far, then look for 2008 to be the year North Carolina becomes a major battlefield for the culture warriors.

Tide and tactics could be shifting, though.

Durham blogger Pam Spaulding, who’s written extensively on the state referendums, recently noted that framing the issue solely as one of fairness hasn’t worked and won’t in a state like North Carolina, where a majority have already said they’d vote for an amendment.

Spaulding points to Arizona, the only place where such an amendment has been voted down, where opponents stressed how the law would ban domestic partner benefits for heterosexual and gay and lesbian couples alike. Arizona, with a lot of seniors shacking up, said no.

Of course, we may not get to the ballot on thiseither through a gutsy House committee vote or inaction by the Senate, where the rules are, shall we say, still a bit old-fashioned.

(For an update on the Defense of Marriage bill, see “First rush of bills tackle tricky issues.”)

A short book review

The Speaker: The North Carolina House of Representatives by Ann Lassiter
23 pp., GBC bound, Legislative Printing Office, Raleigh, N.C., 2007

Though Ms. Lassiter’s $75,000 advance for this book has been the talk of the capital, it is her unconventional prose and keen eye for detail that make this remarkably easy-to-read history something special.

With a full 23 pages of amazing prose, The Speaker is replete with odd choices of capitalization, some noun-verb problems and a few tense shifts here and there. With each leaf, Ms. Lassiter keeps us guessing which sharp corner of the English language she’ll round off next.

Her take on events is stunningly even-handed. Of the “jovial, extremely grateful, compassionate and always young at heart” Speaker Philip Godwin, she writes:

“In 1963, Godwin sponsored the Speaker Ban Law. He believed that North Carolinians had the right to determine how state dollars were spent at public universities and also had the responsibility to protect democracy against the threat of Communism.”

The ending is sad even as it tries to be hopeful. Here, she stretches out:

“That beauty has long been destroyed by politics. Like so many other places where people work, there is coldness, an impersonal lifestyle that has taken over.”

Queen City rumble

Sen. Robert Pittenger (R-Mecklenburg) is a rising star in state politics. Just ask Sen. Pittenger. But don’t ask 9th District U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, who just told her old friend that he was no longer her old friend. In a letter Myrick sent Pittenger that formed the basis of a recent Charlotte Observer article, the congresswoman told Pittenger he was off her campaign team and insisted he stop spreading rumors Myrick was going to step down to run for governor.

“I am not going to run for governor and I am not going to support you for Congress,” Myrick wrote, according to the article.


Kirk Ross travels the state for CapeFearMercury.com and writes about state governance at ExileonJonesStreet.com. He can be reached at editor@capefearmercury.com.