NC Legislative Sessions Have Become Longer, Preventing Younger And More Diverse Candidates From Running

Over the past decade, North Carolina’s part-time legislature’s sessions have become longer and longer, with this year’s 199 day session claiming the record for longest. The salary for this 199 day long session remained the standard – just under $14,000.  It has remained stagnant for 28 years. 

This may explain why our North Carolina lawmakers tend to be independently wealthy, business owners, retirees, or all of the above; they’re the only people who can afford to take a year off. 

Charlotte City Councilman Malcolm Graham, who previously served as Democratic State Senator representing Mecklenburg County for 10 years, retired in 2016, saying that it had turned into a full time job with a completely unpredictable schedule. 

Graham is not independently wealthy, nor is he a business owner. He worked for a private university that gave him the luxury of running and serving in public office, however, they understandably still expected him to be able to come to work. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen, the ‘part-time’ part of this job description may have been used a little too loosely. 

Michael Bitzer, a Catawba College political science professor, says the income limitation on representation is a problem; “That skews, not just the legislature’s perspective, but what issues get addressed as well, from a policymaking point of view”. Bitzer says higher pay would attract more diverse candidates. 

On the subject of salary, House Speaker Tim Moore was quick to shoot down the suggestion of an increase, saying it would be “politically unpopular”.  “As long as I’m Speaker, we’re not going to give a pay raise,” he said. “Anybody who signs up to do this job for the money is in for a rude awakening, right? I mean, it does cost money for those of us who are here. … It really requires sacrifice.”

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