The Charlotte Observer hosted an online “chat” today  in which the public was invited to ask questions of North Carolina House Speaker, Thom Tillis.
Though it was probably too much to expect that Tillis would have used the event as an opportunity to make some real news or admit some errors in his party’s heavy-handed handling of the first three months of the 2011 legislative session , it would have been nice if he had, at least, taken the opportunity to really listen to the tough questions and opposing views voiced by some members of the public and maybe even displayed a little humility and flexibility.
Instead it was the same, increasingly tiring performance that we’ve come to expect from Tillis – the one in which he uses the language and demeanor of a seemingly modern and no-nonsense corporate manager type to cloak what is really a rather remarkable combination of arrogance and ideological rigidity.
Consider the following:
On the GOP’s decision to hold up the unemployment benefits of 37,000 families in order to force the governor to agree to their budget plan and refusal to allow a bill to advance (HB 676) that would free up the benefits immediately:
Tillis: “Whether it is HB 676 or another bill, I am hopeful we will work something out this week. We need to extend the benefits AND we need to avoid the future risk of temporary job losses if we reach an impass[e] on budget negotiations.”
Then, later, he wrote this:
Tillis: The Employeement (sic) Security Commission (ESC) has done a disservice to tens of thousands of NC citizens, not the least of which is only providing 2 weeks notice about the disruption of benefits payments. We need to put the ESC and the Governor on notice that we need certainty for those on unemployment AND state employees the Gov may otherwise use as pawns for her negotiations with the General Assembly.
Tillis: I’m hopeful we will work something out on EB this week. I’ve told the Governor we are willing to compromise. Hopefully the Gov does not view compromise as simply accepting her going in position.
Setting the record straight: All of these statements are transparently disingenuous. The extension of unemployment benefits, which would be wholly funded by the federal government, has NOTHING to do with the state budget  — other than that Tillis and his colleagues saw it as a convenient bargaining tool. Similarly, the attack on the Employment Security Commission is a complete cheap shot. Tillis knows as well as anyone the bill to extend benefits  could have (and still could) pass both houses of the legislature and be signed by the in Governor in less than a day.
On the explnation for Republican efforts to reduce and restrict early voting:
Tillis: “Several factors, not the least of which is cost.”
Tillis: “BTW…early voting is very important. It is only a matter of duration and scope. Shorter duration can allow for more locations for example.”
Setting the record straight: Come on, Mr. Speaker, give us a break. Anyone who believes that the Republicans are pushing proposals to restrict early voting  (and mandate photo ID for voters ) because they want to promote more voter participation has been utterly snookered.
On the obvious conflict between the Republicans’ alleged aversion to “new taxes” and the plan to raise $100 million in new fees on everyday government services.
Tillis: “I complete disagree on the fee argument. Are you telling me that my tax dollars should be used to subsidize cost of people who use the courts? The fee package was $100,000,000. The tax decrease we proposed is 1,700,000,000. I’m at peace with trying to recover some cost. NONE of the fees we’ve proposed fully (or come close) to recovering cost to provide the service.”
Setting the record straight: Uh, Mr Speaker, yes – tax dollars should support the courts…and the schools and the road and clean water, etc…. These are core functions of government. The last thing we need is to turn government into a giant vending machine .
On the Republican efforts to advance a bill that would cause already usurious rates on small loans to skyrocket – all in order to benefit a small handful of large, out-of-state corporations:
Tillis: “I’m not aware of the details on HB 810. However, I do know that some folks who need loans are not getting them and I do believe that this is some sense in charging people and interest rate comensurate (sic) with the risk.”
Setting the record straight: Let’s see – the bill is being advanced by one of his most powerful allies in the House  and the process had already been jury-rigged  so that the bill will no longer have to travel through potentially hostile committee and Tillis is pleading ignorance? Please, Mr. Speaker. As for the notion that current rates aren’t already “commensurate” with the risk involved in these loans, Tillis needs to check out this report .
On the disastrous state of mental health – another area in which the Republican budget would inflict new and likely disastrous cuts – and the plans for Dix Hospital:
Tillis: “The GOP is working closely with Sec. Cansler (DHHS) to allocate resources to MH. Even with the budget cuts, we are making progress. As to Dix, we need to find a way to provide MH services in Raleigh. Whether that is via Dix or an alternative is he (sic) only question.
Setting the record straight: The GOP is “working to allocate resources” in this area in the same way that it’s “working to allocate” them in education, the environment and public safety – that is, by cutting them dramatically . This is doublespeak of the highest order.
On the destructive decision to cut the sales tax at the same time that state revenues are just beginning to recover from the Great Recession:
Tillis: “We believe returning the 800,000,000 in sales taxes to the private sector will create jobs and revenue that will put the state in a BETTER position to help the most vunerable (sic). The current tax and tax more proposition is NOT working. That is why we have a huge deficit and above average unemployment (compared to other states).”
Setting the record straight: One penny on the sales tax that most people don’t even notice is responsible for all that? Really? Cutting the sales tax will put the state in a “BETTER position to help the most vulnerable.” How? When?
Finally, on the Carolina Panthers’ decision to take collegiate football star Cam Newton of Auburn University as the first overall pick in last night’s National Football League draft:
Tillis: “I am season ticket holder and I LOVE the Panthers. Even when I hate them. If Cam can do for the Panthers what he did for LSU, it will be a lot of fun.”
Setting the record straight: It’s not a big deal, Thom, but that’s Auburn, not LSU . But, given the House GOP’s penchant for consistently promoting inaccurate comparisons between southeastern states , it’s not surprising that you missed that one too.