Tillis: GOP has to prove worth to voters

Feb. 21, 2013 @ 10:13 PM

Republicans have to “prove our policies work” if they want to solidify their control of the levers of government in North Carolina, House Speaker Thom Tillis told Durham County GOP leaders Thursday night.

But the Mecklenburg County legislator and former IBM executive voiced no doubts about their ability on that score, saying the GOP will confront its critics with “the inconvenient truth of none of their forecasts [of the state’s decline] being accurate.”

Tillis said the General Assembly’s Republican leadership and Gov. Pat McCrory are united in their overall approach, even if they will disagree from time to time.

“They can’t find any chink in our armor,” he said. “We’re marching together.”

He told the assembled Durham activists – about 72 people in all attended the county party’s annual Lincoln-Douglass dinner on Thursday – that legislators will pass and McCrory will sign a bill that requires voters to present a photo ID before casting their ballot.

The bill should be filed in about two weeks, and it will include provisions that make IDs readily available at no cost to residents, Tillis said.

The measure is certain to spark controversy, as Democrats and groups like the NAACP consider it a veiled attempt to to discourage minorities from voting.

But Tillis argued that voter participation has risen in states that have ID requirements, implying that the imposition of one makes little difference on that front.

In answer to a question from the floor, he added that he doesn’t think the bill should include an ID requirement for absentee voters.

Absentee ballots are already mailed to verified addresses, and it would be too much trouble to falsify one for absentee votes to be a source of large-scale vote fraud, Tillis said.

Moving easily from topic to topic, Tillis said one of his top priorities for the 2013 legislative session is regulatory reform.

That will take the form, he said, of asking business leaders to identify rules they confront only in North Carolina and putting a one-year sunset on them to provide time and impetus for an explanation of the reasons for having them.

Tillis also touched on the GOP leadership’s approach to the UNC system and community colleges, an sore point since McCrory in comments on a conservative radio show appeared to denigrate some liberal-arts programs at UNC Chapel Hill.

He supported the governor in saying the state’s system of higher education needs to “put a prioerity on the skills sets that in our judgment are in demand in this state,” and he named those as including engineering, the sciences and mathematics. He also said the focus should include fields important to potential growth sectors like biotechnology.

But Tillis also signaled he’s not interested in seeing elected officials micromanage the universities.

“We need to focus less on telling them what to teach or how to teach it and more on measuring where people end up,” intervening only “when the results are not being achieved,” he said.

Thursday’s gathering set the stage for the county GOP’s annual convention next weekend.

Durham County Republican Party Chairman Ted Hicks said the group is trying to raise money to establish a permanent headquarters. Its electoral goals locally are the election of a GOP majority County Commissioners and a Republican mayor.

But Hicks conceded that neither of those things is likely to happen in the next two years. The next commissioners election is in 2016, and for now Democrat Bill Bell appears to have a firm hold on the mayor’s office.