Friday, January 26, 2007

House speaker's 'dead-end' job

It’s not true that state Rep. Mickey Michaux, Democrat of Durham, has been in politics since the crust of the Earth coooled. He didn’t really get involved until well after Moses had finished elementary school, but many observers can be forgiven for thinking he has been in the General Assembly forever. Here’s how long he’s been there: since four years before I came to Raleigh 30 years ago next month to cover the General Assembly.
Michaux is beginning his 15th term in Raleigh – and that number would probably be 18th had not President Jimmy Carter appointed Michaux to be the first black U.S. Attorney in North Carolina back in 1977. He is the longest-serving Democrat, having been first elected in 1973. Two Republicans have actually served more years; George Holmes came to the legislature in 1975 and Harold Brubaker in 1977, but Michaux was out of the House for nearly eight years.
Michaux poked a little fun at incoming House Speaker Joe Hackney Wednesday when he seconded the nomination of the Orange County Democrat to be speaker. It was a powerful symbol because Michaux himself had been a candidate in the Democratic caucus for speaker. He was one reason, but not the only reason, that former Speaker Dan Blue had trouble rounding up votes for his own candidacy for another term as speaker.
Michaux told the House Wednesday that he had served under nine speakers during his years in the legislature but that when they left the post, they "disappeared off the radar."
He went on: "Why does Joe want a dead-end job?"
That line got a good laugh, especially because Michaux would have taken that dead-end job if he could have won it.
Ex-speakers haven’t really disappeared, but few have gone on to greater things politically. Four ex-speakers were in the chamber: Former Speaker Blue, former Republican Speaker Harold Brubaker and former Speaker Jim Black, who chose not to seek another term after it became clear he could not win the Democratic Caucus nomination because of federal and state investigations into his actions. The fourth speaker present was former Speaker Carl Stewart of Gastonia, the first two-term speaker, who did rise to other heights: he didn’t win a campaign for lieutenant governor in 1984, but he did become chairman of the State Ports Authority.

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