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Feb 25, 2004
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SCOTT MONNEYHAM: Richard Morgan Is Not a Boogie Man

Over the past year, many Republican Party activists have come to the conclusion that House Co-Speaker Richard Morgan is the boogie man and his GOP rivals are the guardians of all that is good and right in the world.

You’ve got to wonder if these same people, in a few weeks, will be looking for a furry creature hiding candied eggs in their backyards. Their view of the world, and certainly North Carolina politics, is pretty simplistic.

Since becoming co-speaker last year in an alliance with House Democrats, Morgan has been accused of all manner of things. The chief charge from his critics is that he has sold out the Republican Party and its ideals.

Morgan’s detractors say that he is brooding and vengeful, that he doesn’t let go of grudges.

His supporters say he is a straight-shooter, a man who tells you what he thinks and follows through on what he says. That’s a rare commodity in the halls of the legislature.

I’ve watched, written about and spoken with Richard Morgan countless times over the past six years. No doubt, there is truth in both assessments.

But personality and character aside, let’s examine the specific charges leveled against Morgan by his critics:

(1) Morgan prevented the election of a sole Republican House speaker.

No. His crafty counterpart, Democratic Co-Speaker Jim Black, did that. Black recruited disgruntled Republican Rep. Mike Decker temporarily to the Democratic Party, leading to the even 60-60 party split in the House last year. Once that happened, some form of House coalition was inevitable.

(2) Morgan negotiated a weak deal with the Democrats.

Was it any weaker than other offers that came Black’s way? Leo Daughtry of Johnston County and George Holmes of Yadkin County also tried to strike a deal with Black that would have led to a co-speakership.

(3) Morgan has been co-opted by the Democrats.

Interesting theory, but I’m not sure that his friendship with Black translates into being “co-opted.” Morgan is the guy who decided that previously delayed middle-class tax breaks — a child tax credit and elimination of the marriage penalty — had to go forward. He and Black also blocked plans by Senate Democrats to raise sin taxes. Yes, he supported a budget that kept in place sales and income tax hikes. But North Carolina, unlike the federal government, has to balance its budget.

(4) Morgan didn’t support the redistricting lawsuit that has helped Republicans gain legislative seats.

Yep. That one is true. Perhaps it would have been in the GOP’s best interest had he done so. He says he didn’t see legislative redistricting as the courts’ business.

Morgan bears some responsibility for his troubles. He could have set a more conciliatory tone with at least some of his GOP rivals. Daughtry and Holmes, both reasonable men, are two that immediately come to mind.

But those are matters of style. When it comes to substance, Morgan is still a pro-business, anti-tax Republican.

Scott Mooneyham writes for the Capitol Press Association.

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