RALEIGH – Whom do you picture when you think of a Southern Republican? Today the typical Republican in North Carolina is a little less gray, according to Rep. John Bell (R-Goldsboro), the 30-something House Majority Whip. Bell spoke as he drove home to Goldsboro after pulling double, even triple, duty at home and at work with a daughter and wife under the weather.
He isn’t alone in juggling a young family, a burgeoning career and serving as a legislator, driving back and forth to Raleigh every week. In the 74-member Republican caucus, approximately 20 are under 45 years old and there are 12 women. One of those women, Rep. Rayne Brown, announced this week that she will not seek re-election at the end of her term, but has not ruled out making a run at an N.C. Senate seat. In the Senate, the 34-member Republican majority caucus has five women members and the 50-seat Senate has five members under 45 years old.
“The Republican party was known for years as being the old, white, male gray-headed party. That’s really changing,” said Bell. “There are a lot of us in the House under 40 or 45 years old. We put our lives on hold, take a leave of absence from work and do our job in Raleigh. But we know that if we don’t do this, our businesses and our children will not have a future in this state.”
The change is not just happening in the legislature. For the second year in a row the N.C. GOP has a woman vice chairman and the new Chairman, Hassan Harnett, is the first African American chairman in the state party’s history.
In both chambers, almost half of the Republican majority has served fewer than two terms. Some veteran legislators have expressed concerns quietly about the new young faces around the G.A., saying that they are too ambitious, they lack experience and that the institution’s historical memory is dissolving. But according to Bell, the change brings some fresh air and new perspective.
“There’s no one that understands the problems and the potential of this state more than someone who runs a business and has kids in the public schools,” said Bell.
Many of the legislators came in during the 2010 elections, when the House went from a 68-52 Democrat majority in 2009-2010 to a 77-43 Republican majority when legislators were sworn in. Most were re-elected in 2012 when, despite record-breaking campaign spending, the House Republicans had a net loss of just three seats.
“I love what I do and it’s an honor to serve,” said Bell, “I will be here as long as I am effective. That’s the mindset of most of us, we want to come to Raleigh make a difference and then go back to work.”