State Rep. John Blust won’t be going to Washington to replace Congressman Howard Coble next year.
That’s the bad news — at least for Blust, who for years has said he hoped he would follow in Coble’s footsteps.
The good news, Blust said, is there’s still plenty for him to do in Raleigh.
“I’m going to be seeking re-election in District 62, and if Republicans keep our majority, I’m going to be seeking a major leadership position,” Blust said last week.
That could mean trying for speaker of the N.C. House. With state Rep. Thom Tillis trying to unseat U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, there could be an opening. It also could mean majority leader.
Either way, Blust said, he wants to help make Republicans in Raleigh not just powerful but “the good guys.”
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That means curbing some of the tone-deaf, power-grabbing, steam-rolling behavior that GOP lawmakers have displayed since taking power last year.
“I don’t want to beat up on Republicans, and I think we’ve been much better than the Democrats were,” Blust said. “But some of the things we hated Democrats doing when we were in the minority — we’re doing them now. And we shouldn’t be.”
Anyone who’s moved in North Carolina political circles long enough has heard Republicans from the local to the state level bemoan the bullying, underhanded, downright vicious behavior of the state’s Democrats.
But since taking over both the governor’s mansion and the legislature for the first time in a century, Republicans have been playing a medley of the Democrats’ greatest hits.
After condemning decades of Democrats drawing themselves safe political districts, Republicans drew partisan maps even some members of their own party could scarcely support. Here in Guilford County, the rushed reshaping of the Board of Commissioners led a federal judge to declare some of the changes unconstitutional and order that the plan be reworked.
“The official line that everyone was supposed to mouth was, ‘These districts are fair and legal,’ ” Blust said. “But I’d hate to see that as our standard — you know, ‘As long as it ain’t illegal, we can do it.’ It was gerrymandering.
“You’re not being honest if you don’t admit that.”
You’ll likely remember the sweeping new abortion restrictions passed in Raleigh over the summer. They were inserted first into an anti-Shariah bill and then a motorcycle-safety bill. The bill was passed by the state Senate late on the last day of the session. It made national news and got the state mocked on late-night comedy shows.
“I think the bills were minor,” Blust said. “The way it was done, though, it just looked bad. No public notice. Doing it at the last minute. Putting it in other bills. It just gives our critics ammunition so that you’re not even talking about the bills, what’s in them, whether it’s right. It just looks like you’re doing something wrong.”
Steamrolling the minority
Since coming to power in Raleigh, Republican leaders often have been as dismissive of debate and dissenting opinions as the Democrats were when they were in charge.
Several GOP lawmakers even complained that the leadership ignored dissent within their own ranks, acting as if the representatives work for the party rather than the people.
“I came to the House in 2001,” Blust said. “I remember what it was like to be in the minority. I hated not being able to even be heard. We’ve got the majority now. We’ve got the governor. So we’re probably going to pass what we want to pass anyway.
“There’s no reason to pull the strings, too, to cut off the minority and not let their voices be heard. We should let them be full representatives of the people.”
Blust is quick to say — again — that he doesn’t want to beat up on his own party.
He believes in the work being done in Raleigh — an increased focus on fiscal responsibility, making the state a better climate for business, lowering taxes and undoing years of Democratic policy that he said simply didn’t work.
“But even when you win the game, you can go back and look at the tape and see where you can do better,” Blust said. “We can be doing it better — not the things we’re doing — how we’re doing them.”
He also understands what drives the thirst for political vengeance, not political justice.
“The Democrats did this stuff for so long that some of our most fervent supporters feel like, ‘Hey, they did it to us, let’s do it to them,’ ” Blust said. “I get that. But it’s not right. We have to be better than that.”