Wednesday, February 21, 2007

There is, too, a legislative history

Former Speaker Jim Black’s hopes last fall for a fifth-consecutive speakership suffered a blow when newspapers reported how he had created a $50,000 job as historian of the House of Representatives for Ann Lassiter. She’s the former supervisor of the House page program who was cashiered for allowing her son, a released drug felon, to house teenaged pages in his home while they spent a week in Raleigh working at the legislature.
Black defended the historian’s job creation because, he said, there was no history of the House and there ought to be one. As the whole world knows, Ann Lassiter wasn’t the one to produce a history of the House or its speakers. Newspapers had great fun reporting on the thin sheaf of papers – 23 pages in all and full of typos – that she turned in.
But the whole premise of the House historian job – that there was no legislative history – was false. In fact, there is a legislative history. Former Senate President Pro Tem Henson Barnes, a Wayne County Democrat, had researched and written “A Work in Progress: The North Carolina General Assembly” in 1993. And while it may not rival Stephen Ambrose’s American histories for popular readability, Barnes’ account of legislative production has proved valuable.
Says who?
Says Jack Clairborne of Charlotte, a former associate editor of this newspaper and a gifted writer. He’s writing a history of the Dowd family in the Carolinas and the Southeast, and he called me recently to ask how he could find out what issues were before the House of Commons in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Connor Dowd served there from 1797-1807. I’ve been covering state government a long time, but that was a bit before my day. So I referred him to Barnes’ book.
Here’s what Claiborne wrote back:
“Jack: The Henson Barnes book, "A Work in Progress," contains just the summaries I needed. I found a copy in the UNC Charlotte library. You have saved me and my failing eyes much poring over tiny print in old session laws. Many thanks. Let me do you a favor sometime. Cheers, Jack Claiborne”
(Anyone who wants more info on the Dowds, send me an email and I’ll forward a brief summary of what Jack Claiborne is researching. Sounds interesting. JB)

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