Many first-year legislators come to the N.C. House and try to blend in by sneaking in the back door.
Bill Faison thought it better to barrel through the front.
With his debate-sparking legislation, the freshman Caswell County Democrat hasn’t been afraid to raise a ruckus — or stir up a few county commissioners.
“Representative Faison has struck out in a bold new direction with his first time around,” said Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange.
Faison’s more controversial pieces of legislation include a redistricting bill for Orange County and two bills that could halt a Carrboro annexation unpopular with affected residents.
“He is introducing bills that have a little more impact than some of the other first-year legislators,” said Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange. “It’s not that typical, but it’s certainly not unusual.”
The newcomer won office after beating Orange County Commissioner Barry Jacobs in the Democratic primary for House District 50, which includes Caswell County and parts of northern Orange County.
In Orange County, Jacobs — the choice of much of the county establishment — won 53 percent of the vote, while Faison garnered only 41 percent.
But in the manufacturing-heavy Caswell County, Faison used his down-home style to his advantage and ran to a win of 52 percentage points. It gained him a seat in the House, as he had no Republican or Libertarian opponents in the general election.
Now, in a county he lost by 12 percentage points, Faison says he tries to stay involved.
“If you’re under the impression that I’m at war with the county commissioners, then that’s just not so.”
But his critics lament his unorthodox method of proposing legislation without first contacting town officials.
“It does stand in direct contrast to the way other state legislators work,” Jacobs said. “They do try to consult with county officials.”
Faison’s redistricting bill would split the county into districts and increase the number of county commissioners from five to seven. He says it would give the more rural parts of the county a voice on the Board of Commissioners, which now has five Democrats — all of whom are from Chapel Hill or Hillsborough.
“I think I’m right on with the people,” Faison said. “I think on the issue of district representation, the county commissioners are completely out of step.”
Commissioner Stephen Halkiotis said Faison is using the bill to push a political agenda.
“He’s basically doing it for political purposes, to bring the right-wing conservatives in,” he said.
But Insko said detractors should listen to the group that wants the change. “It might not be a majority of people in Carrboro or Chapel Hill who want that legislation, but it may be an important minority.”
Faison’s first annexation bill proposed that residents being annexed get the chance to vote for the officials who decided on the annexation. That would have allowed the more than 850 annexed residents to vote in this year’s Board of Aldermen race.
The most recent legislation would suspend forced annexations while a study committee examined the rising number of such moves in the state.
“This is not about what Carrboro would have a right to do,” Faison said. “This should be about what is right for the citizens in the community.”
He added that his job as a legislator is to listen to people’s needs and wants above those of public officials.
Some say those beliefs have slid over into Faison’s other legislation.
His proposals include health insurance legislation that would provide coverage for low-income citizens and drive down the incentive for premiums. Faison also has proposed a 5 percent salary raise for all state employees.
Critics say such bills are infeasible, especially given the state’s budget problems.
“He’s basically trying to force-feed legislation,” Halkiotis said.
Faison said that isn’t so.
“Governments can sometimes lose their way. … My philosophy is the people’s interests come first, and I’m here to serve the people.”
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