House Speaker Thom Tillis brought his town hall tour close to Raleigh for the first time and it attracted a good bit of media attention. (Read a story on the event here).
The Cornelius Republican has generated constant news at other stops along the way but Wednesday's event in Morrisville was -- to put it politely -- bland. Tillis dodged talking specifics on the meaty questions, gave many long rambling answers and often passed the microphone to the lawmakers sitting near him. (Republicans acutely retorted that not every politician calls for elections to be suspended.)
The video above is the raw cut from the eight-minute gaggle with reporters after the event -- which proved much more interesting with topics ranging from Rep. Stephen LaRoque's ethics issues to a proposal to cap the gas tax.
Here's a few more observations from the town hall:
-- One secure man. Tillis brought a security entourage that made Gov. Bev Perdue's detail look like Mayberry. I recognized one or two General Assembly police officers, at least three sergeant-at-arms and a number of uniformed and plain-clothed Morrisville police officers. Tillis spokesman Jordan Shaw said the detail follows him to every town hall because of threats -- that he wouldn't specify -- targeting the speaker.
--Mr. Nice Guy. One of the first questions Tillis received concerned why lawmakers cut funding for Planned Parenthood -- a free invitation for a good partisan answer that surely made House GOP leader Skip Stam (sitting behind him) salivate. But no, Tillis didn't take the bait, barely making a comment on the organization, which is a frequent GOP target. In his answer, he even went so far as to say he "wasn't sure we got it all right" when it came to the budget cuts. A few other folks teed up good red meat questions -- including one on gay marriage -- but Tillis mostly took the middle road, either talking around the question or passing the mic to other lawmakers. He was all things to all people.
-- Penn State. A TV reporter asked Tillis whether North Carolina needed to strengthen sexual abuse reporting laws in the post-Penn State era. Tillis suggested it was worth a look but he also defended a law the legislature approved that took some reporting responsibility away from principals, as detailed by my colleague Craig Jarvis in a smart piece this week. ( The question comes toward the end of the video.)
-- No hoopla. The N.C. Republican Party predicted a union uprising at the Tillis event, highlighting a notice posted on an AFL-CIO blog about the town hall. But no protest existed. A few Progress NC folks continued their "Pink Slip Truth Tour" but they were parked well away from the firehouse where Tillis spoke. The weirdest part: Republican party spokesman Rob Lockwood surreptitiously filming the Progress NC folks as he tried to elicit something juicy. Lockwood appeared unshaven in a camouflage hat and jacket with jeans.
-- All politics is local. As noted by other reporters at the event, all politics is local -- as evidenced by the Morrisville resident who presented Tillis with a petition to widen a local road. One local issue Tillis didn't face: tax hikes in Morrisville. The town considered them in last year's budget process to help cover costs, including the needs of the fire department where the speaker appeared. Tillis stood in front of a shiny fire truck parked in a brand new fire station as he talked about the need to further trim government spending.