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Finding a niche in the political minority 

by Scott Mooneyham, League Advocacy Communications Strategist

Rick Glazier acknowledges that adjusting to life in the legislative political minority has not been easy. That’s understandable for someone who was one of the top workhorses for former House Speaker Joe Hackney. Glazier began serving in the North Carolina House in 2003 during the House co-speakership of Democrat Jim Black and Republican Richard Morgan. One of 33 House freshmen, Glazier became chair of a House Freshmen Democratic Caucus at a time when those freshmen wielded considerable influence because of both the size of the class of newcomers and because of the even-split among the political parties. To get bills passed, sponsors needed the votes of those freshmen. As chair of the Democratic freshmen, Glazier also got used to working across the aisle, particularly with his freshman counterpart, former Rep. John Sauls.

Glazier’s responsibilities grew when the evenly divided House fell back under the control of Democrats. Black left because of an ethical scandal swirling around him and Hackney was named speaker. During that period, Glazier may have been sponsoring and handling more bills than anyone in the House. All that changed, of course, when party control changed. The lawyer and adjunct law professor was suddenly charged with the task of counting votes as a Minority Whip, a critical role as a Democratic governor weighed the possibility of vetoes of Republican-sponsored legislation. It was one he says that he did not particularly relish.

“There was also a very strong deterioration of relationships. That was the toughest. Every day is a  struggle if people aren’t talking to you. Every issue is a battle, and it is this polarized environment. That kind of wears on you,” he said recently from his legislative office.

The job of Minority Whip also took him away from focusing on policy, something a bit alien to someone who was used to being up to his elbows in it.

If all of that sounds like Glazier is contemplating an exit from the House, it’s not the full story.  Fastforward a couple of years, and he is again feeling positive about affecting process and policy, even if in smaller or less-noticeable ways. “Speaker (Tim) Moore’s leadership style is very different, and while I don’t agree with everything regarding the pace of things, it is much more collegial. There is, I think, more of an attempt to have more consensus-building on the House side. I certainly feel more  participatory,” Glazier said.

As the House neared passing its proposed state budget plan, Glazier took time to talk about his past, present and future as a state legislator.

What caused you to want to run for the Legislature?

It came about because I was on the school board, and had determined that most of the policy affecting education issues was emanating from Raleigh or Washington, and if an opportunity opened up, I would seek the House of Representatives seat. It did because the then eight-term representative, Bill Hurley, who was former mayor of Fayetteville, announced he was retiring, and I was lucky enough to win the Democratic nomination and the election in the fall.

Besides its size and the other reasons that you have already discussed, why do you think that 2003 freshman class was able to hit the ground running like that?

For me, I was very lucky that Tony Rand (the longtime chair of the powerful Senate Rules Committee) was my senior senator. We had a good relationship and he was a good mentor and cared for his Cumberland County colleagues. I think, as well, a lot of us came from local government. A lot of us were former county commissioners, school board members or city council folks, so there was an inordinate amount of government experience in that class. We brought a very deep belief in local control and deference to local decision making that this body has since lost.

Why do you think that is?

Part of that is that a lot of people here now, almost half are first- or second-termers, and most do not have city council, county commissioner or local school board experience.

During that time, what do you consider key accomplishments?

I am very proud of legislation that we have done to create a much better criminal justice system, an effective and accurate criminal justice system, so we passed bills that were actually national leader bills. We created the first Actual Innocence Commission in the country, we passed laws revamping the eyewitness identification laws in the state, interrogation laws in the state, very importantly DNA and biological evidence laws – all of these leading bills in the nation in comprehensive criminal justice reform. We also passed the first bill in the South that was a comprehensive anti-bullying bill that protected all children, including gay and lesbian children. I am proud as well of the ethics reform bills that I was a part of that passed and attempted to change a culture here.

As House Ethics Committee cochair, you played a prominent role in the proceedings in 2008 to expel former state Rep. Thomas Wright from the House. How difficult was that?

It was very difficult, one of the most difficult things that I have ever done in public life. It was extraordinarily time consuming. No one had done it in 120 years. There was no model to follow. We knew we would be creating a system, not only for what had to be done in those circumstances, one that would potentially be reviewable in court, one that might have to be used in the future. Second, who wants to be impeaching a colleague? It was not something that any (legislator) would want to live through again. I do think the process renewed confidence in the ethics of the institution that had been lost at the end of the Jim Black era.

So then you make the adjustment to being in the political minority. What is that like?

There is more of a requirement to be an educator. Before, you may have been doing some education on the details of a solution. Now, it is on the problem. You can certainly be a leader on small things that need work, and you can be a participant in moving the discussion forward. The one skill that stays constant is building relationships.

Based on your earlier comments, is it fair to say that you feel better about where you are today than when the legislative majority initially shifted?

I am very happy with the job that I have been elected to do. I have no desire to be in Washington. I have no desire to run for any number of statewide offices any longer.

Where do you see the need for change here?

We have been so concerned with the last six years of recession that we have gotten almost out of the habit of thinking what we need to do to think past our time here and plant trees for the next generation. I am increasingly concerned about people in Raleigh and the rest of the state who believe this is the new normal and have almost lowered their expectations without remembering that our job is to think beyond our generation and to have grander visions for what we can accomplish.

Editor’s Note: At press time, it was announced that Rep. Glazier will become the Executive Director of the North Carolina Justice Center. He intends to resign from the legislature and begin leading the Justice Center once the current legislative session ends.