Baskerville's first session challenging
Nathan Baskerville was in the minority party for his first trip through a session of the Legislature.
The session was historic in representation and in action. And Henderson’s freshman Democratic lawmaker is no less excited today than he was as a 31-year-old gaining election last fall.
“I study politics. I love our system,” Baskerville said Saturday morning. “I think our system is the best in the world. Democracy is a beautiful thing. I get excited to talk about it. To have a substantial role in making the laws has been a wonderful experience.”
And he understatedly added, “It’s also been a challenge.”
Republicans gained control in both chambers in 2010 for the first time since the 1870s and Reconstruction. Gov. Pat McCrory’s win completed the power trifecta as the long session opened in January.
Baskerville represents District 32 in the N.C. House. He’s the youngest Democrat and the second-youngest lawmaker overall. He’s a lawyer by trade and said he gained a fair amount of respect from both Democrats and Republicans on legal issues.
He also got a “Welcome to Raleigh” taste of politics.
How else to describe crafting a bill of which to be proud, seeing it sail through the House and Senate and then eventually having to vote to defeat it? True story.
Despite admiration of the political process, he understands and now has experience for legislation becoming a casualty of other non-related factors.
Baskerville is outspoken on a voter identification bill. And he also extended gratitude to fellow lawmakers he could rely on for guidance and encouragement.
“I am happy about how I am finding my way through the House and the General Assembly,” Baskerville said. “I’m not proud of all the legislation out of the House. The state budget, I think we could have done better by educators.
“I think the Republican majority misread the people. I think the people wanted change. They wanted reasonable change, not drastic change. I think they wanted change regarding the economy and jobs for middle class folks, working class folks, small business men and women. I think we may have taken our eye off the ball and not focused on jobs like we should have. We’ve had distractions take our eye off the ball.”
Baskerville said the voter ID bill began on the premise of a lack of confidence in the election system. It also started with four pages.
It ended with 58 pages, some provisions of which were related to campaign money, transparency in political ads, changes in early voting, presidential primaries, pre-registration for teenagers and civics programs in high schools.
“When corporations can make unlimited contributions to political parties, that in my opinion, does not increase voter confidence in elections,” Baskerville said. “That decreases confidence. They know the very wealthy can buy influence. I spoke out on that bill. It is not a voter ID bill. It is four pages out of 58 dealing with an ID. That’s not a voter ID bill.
“This is what I mean when I say the majority party misread the public. The voter ID provision, that had some support, but I guarantee this other stuff does not. When it is harder to vote, easier to drop money in a campaign, I don’t think people in District 32 support that.”
Baskerville said he got a “crystal clear” realization during the session.
“Good legislation takes time to go through the proper channels, to get studied by committee, to get input from stakeholders and the public, and to reach a measured position,” Baskerville said. “When legislation goes through committee, you get input from the public, everybody takes a hit, everybody doesn’t get everything they want, everybody has skin in the game. That’s typically a mark of good legislation.
“Some legislation, this biennium, went through the process. Some was backed by facts, numbers, reason and science. And some legislation was backed by ideology. In my opinion, those types of processes do not contribute to good legislation.”
Baskerville was critical of legislation that empowered Raleigh against local governments.
During the session, lawmakers took control of the state’s busiest airport in Charlotte and made an annexation order in Durham opposed by its City Council. A water system is at stake with Asheville.
“That’s a step in the wrong direction,” Baskerville said. “We don’t need to centralize that power in Raleigh. I have confidence in our local governments to be more responsible in their communities than 120 members in Raleigh.”
Baskerville’s bills gaining passage included two related to driving issues and another with student administrative equality in the University of North Carolina system.
Working with Rep. John Bell of Goldsboro, Baskerville learned of two situations in the UNC system where students were appearing before “quasi-judicial boards.” They are sometimes called honor courts, run by and for students.
“The conduct hearing can follow them the rest of their life,” Baskerville said. “The way the UNC system set it up, they can’t have representation. Nobody can speak on behalf of their situation.”
Discussions ensued with representatives from the universities, attorneys and supporters of students’ educational rights and freedoms.
“The bill says students have a right to have advocates of their choosing that can participate,” Baskerville said. “That passed the House, passed the Senate and came back to the House in the regulatory reform bill.”
The regulatory reform bill, among other things, has loosened restrictions that could allow rural North Carolina counties to become landfill dumping grounds.
“That was a provision of the regulatory reform bill, but it had about 100 other provisions not right for eastern North Carolina where we might be a dumping ground for toxic waste,” Baskerville said. “I had to vote against my own bill.”
Welcome to Raleigh.
And it’s times like that when veterans can be of help.
“I talked to Sen. Dan Blue about legislation, about procedure,” Baskerville said. “I also talked to him about being an attorney and keeping your practice going while you’re in Raleigh. He’s taken time to give me advice.
“In the House, I talked to Winkie Wilkins. He took time to work with me closely.”
Knowing the rules, Baskerville said, is a huge step in making things happen.
“We’ve got a book of rules, and if you don’t know the rules governing procedure, your bills can be hijacked, can be gutted and changed,” Baskerville said.
He also mentioned the influence of Reps. Michael Wray and Mickey Michaux.
“Mickey Michaux has helped me tremendously,” Baskerville said. “He’s given me perspective. When the good legislation takes a while to pass, and I feel mine is good and want it to go through, Mickey will tell me it takes a while, don’t get discouraged.
“He tells me to go talk to this senator, this committee chair. People have taken the time to help me when I had a question.”
And he believes that comes from being new with no baggage from previous sessions, and with dealing honestly and straightforwardly with colleagues regardless of their party or their region in the state.
“As a freshman, I think I am in a unique position, because I’m not tied down by any baggage,” Baskerville said. “I’m not tied to any baggage from a previous session. I can go and exercise my opinions without being tied down to what was done before. I was looking at it fresh, willing to listen to everyone.
“I still have that same outlook.”
And he’s excited about his future as a lawmaker, and the state’s in general. He predicts Republicans will self-correct in the next short session, which convenes next May. And he’s going to self-examine, try to find ways to improve.
“On both sides, it is time for reasonable individuals to be able to build relationships,” Baskerville said. “I’m optimistic about the future. I think there will be some course-correcting after all the members go home and have a time to talk to people in their district. I look forward to getting feedback from the community and the constituents. And I know my colleagues are doing the same.”
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