September 2, 2011
Keeping up the heat on the Speaker’s summer tour
Advocates for workers, women, justice, health care, civil liberties, and others were watching as Thom Tillis held a town hall in Clayton, NC on August 30, 2011. About two dozen folks gathered along the busy US Highway 70 and held signs that read “Workers are Watching”, “Taxpayers are Watching”, and “Women are Watching” as Thom Tillis, flanked by area lawmakers, bragged about his legislative accomplishments since Republicans took over the General Assembly in January.
A group of several labor, community, education, and women’s health advocates participated in the Town Hall, which Speaker Thom Tillis held in a small corner of McCall’s BBQ. About 40 people showed up to ask him questions about the direction his “leadership” is taking North Carolina.
As town hall events go, this one was a great opportunity for just about anyone to ask a question and listen to the Speaker defend policies that have set North Carolina back years. The Speaker was introduced as someone, not only with an exemplary work ethic, but more importantly, as someone with a strong moral compass. Someone who truly cared about the future of North Carolina and its citizens. We were unclear if that included working people and their families.
As the Speaker started, he talked about how fast he and his colleagues “got things done and passed.” He highlighted some specific bills, including the Workers’ Compensation compromise as an example of bipartisan cooperation in an otherwise divisive legislative session. After about 10 minutes, he opened it up to questions, and that’s when the real fun started.
Almost all of the questions were critical of his record. The people we came with had the opportunity to ask him about his budget and its crippling effect on public education, his harmful undermining of consumer protections, his attack on a woman’s right to choose, and his inability to recognize the need for jobs – all of it while accusing him of playing politics and ignoring the real problems North Carolina faces.
One woman told the story of her husband, a principal at a local school in Clayton who had to tell his teachers that, due to budget cuts, they could make no more than 600 copies for all of their classes for the entire year, down from 2,500 the year before.
Surprisingly, Tillis admitted his budget is putting even more of a burden on teachers. “Quite frankly,” he said, “a lot of these teachers who aren’t even paid enough are using money out of their own pockets to make up the gap.”
“Maybe we made some decisions which weren’t good, bad outcomes. I’m not reluctant to acknowledge when a mistake is made.”
Another participant asked if Tillis is such a fan of limited government, then why expand state intervention in a woman’s right to choose.
Another woman asked Tillis how the Voter ID bill will help her feed her family.
Another asked why Tillis couldn’t find time in his legislative calendar to propose a jobs bill, with unemployment on the rise across the state.
As the event was coming to a close, one participant got into a brief, heated exchange with the Speaker about the role of government, particularly around unemployment benefits and responding to natural disasters. He was visibly frustrated and irritated. “Time will tell,” if his policies have been the right ones, he said. But it seemed Thom Tillis finally got a sense of what many voters, taxpayers, and workers have been feeling since January.