by Matt Saldaña
Well, that was fast. Within one hour of the 2009-10 N.C. General Assembly's opening session--and shortly after being defeated, along party lines, by Joe Hackney, D-Chatham, for the position of House Speaker--Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, invoked the Defense of Marriage Act. He did so while arguing, fruitlessly, against temporarily approving the legislature's house rules, a formality of the inaugural session.
Apparently, Stam's disapproval has also been an opening-day formality, at least for the past two decades.
"It's been since 1989 that I've voted to approve the temporary rules," he said.
At issue was the technical definition of "committee chair" that, according to the rules, also includes co-chairs. In the case of the all-powerful appropriations committee, Stam noted, that means a total of eight positions doled out by Speaker Hackney and his Democratic majority--in addition to the party-apportioned committee membership.
"In 2009, we are going to have a tough budget year. Major decisions will be decided by the co-chairs solely," Stam claimed. "If I were in the majority party, I'd want to share some of that pain."
Stam turned to the Defense of Marriage Act, which would constitutionally prohibit same-sex couples from marrying, as an example of why he's upset the majority party is hogging all that pain.
"We're the only state in the Southeast without a marriage amendment," he said, owing to the bill not being heard "because of these rules."
Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, who nominated Stam for the speaker position with an odd speech that invoked "The Dark Night" ("It's always darkest before the dawn") and something about how "the beautiful red cardinal returns after the pall of winter is lifted," also backed up Stam on his motion to deny the rules.
That prompted Bill Owens, D-Camden--who made the original motion to accept the rules-- to reply: "If you've got the votes, Rep. Lewis, you can change (the rules)."
-In addition to Hackney, Rep. William Wainwright, D-Havelock, was sworn in for another term as speaker pro tempore. He defeated Dale Folwell, R-Winston-Salem, also along party lines.
-The House gallery was packed, with people craning their necks to snap photos of their favorite state reps, and sergeants-at-arms keeping spill-over around the glass panes to a minimum. We missed the pig-pickin's beforehand, but did catch a glimpse of some interesting items on legislators' desks, many of them food-related:
Texas Pete hot sauce; Double-barreled jars of jawbreakers (hot pink, and flourescent green) on the desk of Alice Graham Underill; a miniature purple hat on the desk of Alma Adams, who was wearing a sparkly black hat of her own; the occassional Diet Coke; and scant family photos (one legislator had two--the only ones we spotted).
-The floor, and gallery, were tickled by the alliteration of Republicans whose surnames began with "S," voting for Stam: Starnes-Stam, Steen-Stam, Stevens-Stam, and, of course, Stam-Stam. For a few moments, the House chamber became a Dr. Seuss book--which no doubt pleased the kids whose parents made them attend (Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, among them):
And so on.
Unfortunately for Stam, his sibilant streak was broken by Rep. Randy Stewart, D-Nash. Stewart-Hackney. Ouch.
Were you at the opening day session? Did you, unlike us, get free food? Spot anything else interesting on legislators' desks? Let us know in the comments section below.