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Tillis Walks Out on Party Faithful Over Tolls


At this weekend’s North Carolina GOP convention, some Widen I-77 supporters introduced an amendment to the party platform and a resolution opposing toll lanes. What happened over the course of the last couple of days was nothing short of high political theater.  First some background.

The current GOP platform states:

We oppose government-sanctioned tracking of drivers to enforce occupancy rates on our highways.

This is squarely in opposition to the proposed HOT lane scheme, which requires vehicles with fewer than three occupants to pay a toll.  Even so, we wanted the GOP to be more emphatic on their stance regarding toll lanes.  We proposed an additional plank in the platform:

We oppose any plans for or legislation in favor of HOT Lanes.

The entire platform was not adopted during the business session on Friday, and they did not get to that part of the business Saturday.  So it was left to the Executive Committee meeting on Sunday to get the plank approved.

I am pleased to report, due to the efforts of some of our incredible volunteers, and despite powerful opposition, the plank was approved.  This is a tremendous development as we take our fight to Raleigh because, as one party official put it, “the amendment to the platform is much stronger than the resolution. The platform is a much higher order document which should guide how the party acts. So you [the toll opponents] actually achieved a huge victory.”

To put an exclamation point on this we introduced a Resolution Concerning HOT Lanes in North Carolina.

We passed out the required 1000 copies on Friday and Saturday, but were unable to present it from the floor Friday because the meeting was closed due to lack of a quorum.  On Saturday the meeting ended before resolutions were considered.

That left Sunday when the Executive Committee met. After a long and complicated process we were able to pass out copies of the resolution and it was proposed by a committee member.

A “quorum call” was immediately made.  This procedure is sometimes used when someone does not want to debate/discuss the topic ahead.  If there is no quorum, the subject cannot be addressed.  With the doors locked and the quorum count complete, a quorum was indeed established… by a single person over the required number.

Thom Tillis led off the debate against our resolution, saying HOT Lanes are not planned to go across our state.

This is not true.  North Carolina statute G.S. 136‑89.183(a)(2)a authorizes the North Carolina Turnpike Authority to build eight turnpike (toll) projects across the state. Tillis have known this because this past Tuesday he signed an amendment, HB 10, to that very law. (HB 10 allows further expansion of the Triangle Expressway, currently NC’s only toll road.) In the narrowest legal sense, a “toll road” is not the same as a “toll lane,” but surely the Party Faithful assumed the Speaker was not resorting to a lawyerly parsing of words when addressing his own folks.

Tillis also mentioned we should work through our local towns and governing boards to stop toll lanes. But time and again our local leaders have said either it’s an NCDOT problem or a state issue.  Indeed, the impact of Tillis’ words can be found in Cornelius Mayor Lynette Rinker’s support for toll lanes.  After a meeting with Tillis she echoed his words saying HOT lanes are “our one shot to get this done. This is it. That was underscored with bold type and exclamation points.”  Rinker, you may recall, cast the deciding vote for Cornelius in favor of HOT lanes.

Suffice it to say our friends were not swayed by Tillis’ rhetoric.

Party Chairman Robin Hayes then spoke against our resolution, saying we should not comment regarding items currently under consideration by the legislature. We think the opposite is true. The party should make absolutely clear where it stands on pending legislation.

Again our friends were not swayed.  In fact, after Tillis and Hayes spoke eight people had lined up at the mic to speak in favor of our resolution.  None had stood up to oppose.

What happened next can only be described as shocking.  When it became obvious the resolution could very well pass, Tillis got up and spoke with several people along his aisle.

And then he walked out of the meeting.

A few people followed in tow.  Without a quorum no further party business could be conducted, and the meeting abruptly ended.

Remember, this was not a group of hecklers or even disinterested middle schoolers he walked out on. This was the Executive Committee of the NC Republican Party, the Most Faithful of the Faithful.  The Establishment witnessed the bizarre spectacle of the Establishment Candidate walking out on the Establishment.

Tillis’ behavior is especially puzzling in light his recent calls for party unity, both on Saturday and at his own district’s convention.

What we witnessed today was what Widen I-77 has long suspected: Tillis not only favors I-77 toll lanes, but is willing to go to the mat to make sure we’re stuck with them.  He wants to drop a 50 year, half-billion dollar burden on his constituency.

Why this is we can only speculate, but for now Tillis faces a ticklish question: what does an establishment candidate do when the establishment disagrees with him?

Thus far the answer appears to be: avoid the question.

*Written by Kurt Naas with 

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