Monday, July 23, 2007

Auctioneer of the N.C. Senate dies

Another colorful character in N.C. politics has gone on to his reward. If you didn’t spend much time in the state Senate from the 1960s into the 21st century, or spend much time in tobacco warehouses in Eastern North Carolina, you probably never knew LeRoy Clark Jr., the Senate’s longtime reading clerk. His obit is available here.
But those who paid attention to tobacco and politics knew him, listened to him rattle on in session and in auction and appreciated his sometimes whimsical ways.
Not many folks knew, either, that LeRoy had a degree from the University of North Carolina – in journalism, I once read. He was in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II, where he was awarded the Purple Heart twice, and was a member of the class of 1946 at Chapel Hill.
But his calling was an auctioneer. LeRoy could talk fast. His skills were in demand in agriculture and politics both. He owned Farmers Warehouse in Wendell just east of Raleigh, but for nearly 40 years there wasn’t a bill that passed the legislature without LeRoy Clark’s singsong description of the bill on at least three occasions.
In the sometimes arcane business of parliamentary procedure, bills in the legislature must be read three times before they pass. The first reading is the day they’re introduced and sent to committee. The second and third readings occur if and when they come back with a favorable recommendation from committee and get debated before the legislature. The reading clerk’s job is to read the bill’s title before votes are taken, and any pending floor amendment, and sometimes, rarely, the whole cotton-picking bill or resolution.
LeRoy often stood at his post, a light blue sports coat draped over his shoulders, reading off the title of a bill and the operative ending phrase, “The General Assembly of North Carolina enacts.” Except when LeRoy chanted it, it sounded more like “GenAssimlyaNawthCalinaenax.”
Lot of legislative votes are one-sided affairs. In the Senate when a bill passed second reading by a lot, LeRoy would made the tedious day a little lighter on third reading when there was no controversy. He’d intone something like, “A bill to do away with poverty and some other stuff, GenAssimlyaNawthCalinaenax.” Or he might say, “A bill to do some sort of foolishness, GenAssimlyaNawthCalinaenax.” And of course legislators would smile a little and nod their heads and vote for whatever bill was on the calendar for final approval.
LeRoy Clark retired a few years ago, and in his place we now how another reading clerk with journalism training – former Capital Press Corps TV reporter (WFMY-TV in Greensboro) and producer (UNC Television) Ted Harrison.
I was sitting in the Senate one day last week as members took a final vote on a bill to require the mowing of overgrown vegetation. I didn’t catch it exactly, but I swear I think I heard Ted describing the bill with words something like, “It has to do with kudzu, morning glories and all sorts of overgrown vegetation, and some other stuff. GenAssimlyaNawthCalinaenax.”
Good. Some traditions ought to keep on keeping on.
Goodbye, LeRoy. Hello, Ted.
Postscript on July 24: A veteran Observer of legislative doings makes a good point, herewith:
"The only thing I'd take issue with (and this is really just a matter of degree) is that at times, usually when they had a really big calendar to wade through, I think he'd get it down to four syllables: 'Gen'lenax.'"
PPS:
Which reminds me of the late flamboyant attorney Chub Seawell of Carthage, who often ended his fiery letters to the editor, "Call your next case."

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

at his retirement LeRoy was the last legislative employee to have served when the General Assembly met in the Capitol. LeRoy was elected Reading Clerk in 1959.
-Gerry

Anonymous said...

Actually, there is still one legislative assistant in the Senate who used to work in the "secretarial pool" at the old Capitol. She now works for the gentleman from Gaston.

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