Senator Richard Stevens to resign

One of the UNC system’s most diligent advocates in the N.C. General Assembly will tread down a new political path next year.

After five terms in the N.C. Senate, Richard Stevens, a Republican senator from Wake County, resigned Sept. 7 to become a lobbyist.

Stevens said he saw no problem resigning early because he already wasn’t running for re-election. The legislature is not in session, and it will reconvene in January.

“This opportunity came along, and it’s such a wonderful
opportunity, I decided to take it,” Stevens said.

A legislator known for working across party lines to support public universities, Stevens began work at the Raleigh-based Smith, Anderson, Blount, Dorsett, Mitchell & Jernigan law firm Monday.

He was ranked third-most effective state senator for the 2011-12 legislative session by the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.

In a statement, Sen. Phil Berger, R-Guilford and president pro tempore, called Stevens a champion for the state’s public universities.

“His support was instrumental in shaping legislation that made the UNC system a national leader in higher education,” Berger said.

During his time in office, Stevens, a graduate of UNC-CH’s Master of Public Administration program — a two-year master’s degree from the School of Government — remained active in the University.

He has given guest lectures in government courses and even taught a class on state government.

“He’s been a major influence in shaping our next generation of local and state leaders,” said William Rivenbark, the MPA program director and a professor.

The move from legislator to lobbyist — commonly referred to as the “revolving door” — is not uncommon for N.C. lawmakers.

Just this summer, Harold Brubaker — a long-serving House Republican who was N.C. Speaker of the House from 1995 through 1998 — resigned to become a lobbyist.

And former Republican House members Chuck Neely and Connie Wilson were both ranked in the top 10 most influential lobbyists for 2011-12 by the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.

Seven of the 60 most influential lobbyists for 2011-12 were former state legislators.

Stevens said he resigned early to avoid a conflict of interest.

Legislators must wait six months after leaving the legislature before they can begin lobbying, known as a “cooling-off period.”
This restriction was enacted in 2006.

Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy N.C., a nonpartisan organization that works for ethics reform in the legislature, said it complicates ethics whenever a legislator turns to lobbying.

“People are resigning and coming back to lobby members who they served with, people they built up relationships with, both as colleagues and peers,” Hall said.

He said legislators should have to wait at least a year, if not two years.

But Hall said Stevens will follow any legal requirements for new lobbyists.

“Stevens is a man of great integrity,” he said. “He’s been accessible and honorable as a legislator.”

Republican Tamara Barringer and Democrat Ervin Portman will be vying for Stevens’ vacant seat in the November election.

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