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Black snags 4th term as speaker

RALEIGH — The representatives seated in the rear of the N.C. House on Wednesday were determined to be heard.

Twenty Republicans — 14 of them seated in the back row of the chamber — voted against Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, as sole speaker of the House.

Black still garnered enough votes — 100 in all — to assume the role for a record-tying fourth time during the first day of the N.C. General Assembly, ending a two-year power-share between Democrats and Republicans.

After the 2004 elections, the Democrats hold a six-vote majority in the chamber, 63-57.

After one week of stalemate in 2003, the House elected two co-speakers, Black and Rep. Richard Morgan, R-Moore.

“The relationship they built up … has given both of them some confidence that they can make (a coalition government) work,” said Ferrel Guillory, director of UNC’s Program on Southern Politics, Media and Public Life.

The first step to creating this coalition government was the historic move of giving Morgan the second-in-command position — speaker pro tem.

The slot, in the past, almost always has been given to a high-ranking majority member.

“This 2005 session brings a new twist in the ribbon of coalition government,” Morgan said as he accepted the post. “At its core (are) the principles that guided the 2003 chamber.”

Morgan will enjoy new dimensions of power in a traditionally ceremonial role.

Under Black’s watch, he will be able to appoint several committee chairmen of his own choosing.

“Clearly what’s gone on here is Jim Black, with the agreement of the Democratic caucus, has tried to keep Morgan and his allies part of the action,” Guillory said.

He said this move could help Black in the future when he’s in a crunch and needs to look to Morgan’s moderate Republican allies for votes.

“It gives Speaker Black a cushion in terms of assuring 61 votes for the key pieces of legislation.”

But while most Republicans affirmed Black and Morgan’s election, the vote didn’t go off without a hitch.

One voice from the back row rang out in opposition as Rep. William Culpepper, D-Chowan, made the motion to elect Black and Morgan.

Rep. John Rhodes, R-Mecklenburg, tried to stall the vote that would approve Black and Morgan’s election.

But the House clerk quickly let Rhodes know that he was speaking out of turn.

“My debate was silenced,” he said.

“What you basically have is a third party emerging. Let’s call them the Republicrats. That’s just the sad state of affairs we have up here in the North Carolina House.”

Although he was the only representative to speak during the motion, others made their views known during the roll call vote for the power-share.

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“We’ve got this group of Republicans that really has gone over to the other side,” said John Blust, R-Guilford, who also voted against the resolution.

“If (Republicans are) backing Morgan, they’re saying we don’t ever need to be in charge as Republicans. That’s going to be the issue — are you a Republican that’s going to work to return to Republican control, or are you going to work to have a coalition?”

But Guillory said even though Black and Morgan have built a coalition, House politics should still prove volatile throughout the session.

“Though they have built a personal relationship and their politics are relatively similar, one’s still a Democrat, and one’s a Republican,” he said.

“They are not the same thing.”

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