Last week, state officials and members of the UNC Board of Governors, which governs the UNC system, began speaking openly about persistent rumors Moore will seek the position.
Moore denied he will apply for the position and characterized the speculation as “wild rumors” last week. But he also declined to directly answer a question from Policy Watch on his interest in the position.
And, late last week a scathing editorial in UNC-Chapel Hill’s student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, expressed strong concern over the idea of one of the most powerful and divisive political figures in the state taking over a university system. The 17-campus system has for years been battered by partisan conflicts at its highest levels, the editorial noted, and members of the UNC Board of Governors have said they would like the next system president to serve for 8 to 10 years.
“But a decade with Tim Moore at the helm of public higher education across North Carolina could have disastrous consequences,” the editorial said. “Frankly, it’s hard to imagine anything worse.”
The editorial laid out a history of divisive rhetoric and actions — particularly involving the LGBTQ community — that stretches from Moore’s days as an undergraduate at UNC-Chapel Hill to the recent struggle over overriding Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget veto in the House.
A history of divisive rhetoric
One of the earliest political controversies of Moore’s career came years before he’d ever run for office.
In 1991, Moore was a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill, a transfer from Campbell University. He was elected to the campus’ Student Congress and — in a 16-14 vote — became its Speaker. But his conservative views led fellow members to express concerns, saying he had been talking about cutting funding to student groups with which he personally disagreed, such as the Carolina Gay and Lesbian Association and The Black Student Movement.
Moore denied that in an article that appeared on the front page of the Daily Tar Heel on April 24, 1991.
“I basically don’t want to and can’t defund organizations,” Moore told the paper.
But just a few months later, he spearheaded a resolution to do just that, arguing that the funding of an LGBTQ group put student government on the wrong side of North Carolina laws outlawing sex between people of the same gender. That law was later invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court and was then a political flashpoint with which many of Moore’s fellow student congress members didn’t feel they should engage.
Moore did not have support for defunding the group during the regular school year. But during the body’s summer session, the school congress’ by-laws gave Moore the ability to appoint members to the summer congress, which Moore used to appoint 11 new members. The resolution to cut the LGBTQ group’s funding passed with five members Moore appointed helping to carry it.
Moore denied that he timed the vote to coincide with his summer appointments, saying that the regular session of the congress during the school year had just been too busy to take up his resolution.
Moore took the fight over his right to appoint the new members all the way to the UNC Supreme Court, which found the by-law language ambiguous.
Moves such as that earned Moore a reputation as a conservative firebrand bent on giving the student congress a partisan bent. Continued controversies and allegations that he actively recruited conservatives to join the student congress to help in such efforts eventually brought a young Moore into conflict with the campus’ Young Republicans.
In February of 1992, the Daily Tar Heel reported that the Young Republicans passed a resolution “prohibiting any dealings with Speaker Moore or his cohorts on the grounds that he sought to solicit the aid of various members members of the student congress in order to facilitate his own advancement.”
Fellow Republicans on campus said they did not like Moore trying to recruit people into the Student Congress because they were conservative, building a voting bloc for conservative moves there.
Moore denied to the Daily Tar Heel that he had recruited conservatives specifically, but then said there was no law against his doing so.
“The whole point of whether or not I did (encourage conservatives to run), well there’s nothing wrong with that,” Moore said.
Lee Newcomb, a Young Republican and fellow member of the Student Congress, was quoted as saying Moore’s actions on campus and reputation for duplicity made Republicans look bad.
“I don’t think he is representative of us,” Newcomb said. “He is a hypocrite.”
“Tim is motivated by personal gain,” Newcomb said. “I want to inform the student body that their speaker of Student Congress is a liar and a hypocrite.”
These episodes reminded a number of current students, lawmakers and LGBTQ advocates of the recent controversy over the N.C. House vote to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget veto.
In that case, the press and Democratic leaders were told there would be no vote on the override on the morning of September 11. Republican lawmakers showed up in force and and Moore, as House Speaker, called the vote while enough Democrats were absent to make it possible.
Moore denied he had planned the move, saying he wasn’t responsible for his top lieutenant, Rep. David Lewis, telling the press there would be no vote that day. Lewis denied he ever made such an assurance to House Democrats.
“It is certainly very interesting,” said House Minority Leader Darren Jackson (D-Wake) of the parallels between political controversies during Moore’s undergraduate years at UNC-Chapel Hill and his actions as Speaker of the House decades later.
“It really comes down to ‘can you trust him, can you trust what he says?’” Jackson said. “And you can’t.”
After decades of ends-justify-the-means politics, Jackson said, Moore would be an incredibly divisive choice for UNC President who would bring with him a lot of political baggage.
After his time at UNC-Chapel Hill, Moore went on to become, at 26, the chair of the Cleveland County Republican Party. That same year, he was the youngest person ever appointed to the UNC Board of Governors.
His time on the UNC Board was fairly uneventful. Those who served with him on the board remember him as easy to work with and not likely to press an issue if he was in the minority — as he often was on the board.
When he became Speaker of the N.C. House in 2015, as Republicans were comfortably in the majority in state government, his leadership style would reveal itself as more divisive and combative. Under his leadership, Republican lawmakers pressed their advantage to push a number of controversial issues, from gerrymandered voting maps to HB2, the so-called “bathroom bill.”
A history of LGBTQ animosity
Ames Simmons, policy director at Equality NC, said a long history of troubling stances on LGBTQ issues — from his college years to the current legislative session — should be a disqualifier for any candidate for UNC System President.
“UNC is an educational institution that should be affirming to all students,” Simmons said. “All students should be able to get their education without having to deal with discrimination. And everything about Speaker Moore’s record in the House shows that he’s opposed to ideas like non-discrimination. Even judging from the punitive tone that his chamber had when Charlotte passed their non-discrimination ordinance [ahead of the HB2 fight], I think his being president at UNC would be terrible.”
The authoritarian, combative tone set by Moore at the General Assembly is nearly the exact opposite of what the state should be looking for in the next leader of the UNC system, Simmons said.
“When you look at the way that the General Assembly has just become more and more closed off to input, it suggests that if he is trying to lead a university system representing our entire state he would be as opposed to transparency in government there as he has been at the General Assembly.”
Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, agreed.
“Speaker Moore has, over the course of his career in word and deed, made very clear not just his opinions on LGBTQ issues but also the way he understands power and is willing to use it,” Beach-Ferrara said.
The UNC system is one of the treasures of the state, Beach-Ferrara said, and it should be clear that its leadership works for everyone. Moore’s track record should make a lot of minority communities in North Carolina concerned about the possibility of his becoming president of the system, she said.
“He’s shown that he’s willing to use his power to mount a full frontal attack on core parts of our democratic system and directly target minority communities in our state,” she said.
UNC Board of Governors members discussing possibility
Multiple members of the UNC Board of Governors have told Policy Watch that the possibility of a Moore candidacy has been discussed for months. Most of those members asked not to be identified so that they could describe closed-session conversations.
Though the board is dominated by GOP legislative appointments, several members expressed concern that Moore’s candidacy could be seen as self-dealing and would confirm criticisms that the board has become too partisan.
Other members have said they believe Moore would be a good candidate.
“If he wanted to apply, I think he would have a lot of the skills necessary,” board member David Powers said.
Board member Phil Byers said Moore should be able to apply if he would like to.
“I’ve been friends with Tim for 28 years and he’s never mentioned to me that he wants to apply,” Byers said. “But it should really be open to anybody. The process should be that the committee and the board should decide who is going to the do the best job.”
Board member Leo Daughtry agreed.
“I think he’s a good man, a solid guy and he has the right to petition the board,” Daughtry said. “If he does apply, his application would get serious consideration.”
Board member Marty Kotis, who has also been friendly with Moore, said he’s never heard him express interest in the job.
“You would think if he was interested he would tell a board member,” Kotis said.
Kotis said he will vote for whoever is most qualified, but would prefer someone connected with the university system who also has strong business experience, someone like Fred Eshelman, a former Board of Governors member whose background is in pharmaceuticals and the investment business.
“I don’t know if someone like that wants the job,” Kotis said.
As far as people who are now serving in the General Assembly, Kotis said he would favor a “cooling off” period between serving in office and applying for a position with the university.
“We’ve had that discussion with Board of Governors members — can they be on a Board of Trustees, can they apply for a job with the system?” Kotis siad. “We already have that with Board of Governors members — you can’t apply to be a chancellor, for a job with the system, while they’re on the board.”
That would be a good idea with the UNC system presidency as well, Kotis said.