North Carolina Government & Politics

By Jack D. Fleer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Legislative Life in North Carolina

Dan Blue is, in many ways, a typical member of the North Carolina General Assembly. He was born in the state, was educated at one of its major universities, is a practicing attorney, is active in the Democratic party, and enjoys the challenge of representing constituents in the state's capital. Blue was first elected to the state house of representatives in 1981 and has won reelection handily in each successive biennial election.

During his first decade of service, Blue earned a reputation for being thoughtful, pragmatic, and fair. He demonstrated leadership by serving as chairman of legislative committees, including Judiciary (Law Enforcement and Public Safety). He attracted notice rapidly. Since 1983, the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research has found Blue to be ranked among the top ten state lawmakers in each of its biennial surveys of legislators and lobbyists on legislative effectiveness. Blue's talents for forging political coalitions behind policy solutions gained him prominence among his colleagues.

In 1991, Blue was elected the state's first African American house speaker— an atypical choice for that body and a historic accomplishment in the state and nation. A legislator who nominated Blue for the position said, "I'm nominating a black man named Blue and I'm the happiest redneck you've ever seen." Blue was elected to bring together a majority party and a legislative body that had suffered serious divisions in the late 1980s. He was reelected to a second term as Speaker in 1993. This atypical member and historic choice reflects the changing face of the North Carolina General Assembly. 1

During the twentieth century, two characterizations of North Carolina's General Assembly have been widely publicized and debated. One is that the assembly has been, is, and should continue to be a "citizens' legislature." 2

This view holds that the legislature should be composed of members who re-

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