New North Carolina House committee leaders revealed

Published 2:11 pm Wednesday, January 18, 2023

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Two former North Carolina House members who have now returned as representatives after years away have landed committee leadership positions, Speaker Tim Moore announced on Tuesday while unveiling committee rosters for the new session.

Rep. Stephen Ross, an Alamance County Republican, was named a House Commerce Committee chairman with GOP Rep. John Sauls of Lee County. Ross had served four House terms before losing to Democrat Ricky Hurtado in 2020. Ross defeated Hurtado in a repeat election matchup in November.

Democratic Rep. Tricia Cotham of Mecklenburg County will be one of three chairs of the K-12 education committee, joining two Republicans. Cotham served in the House for nearly 10 years through 2016 before returning as a candidate last year.

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Cotham is one of a few Democrats who have received top committee positions in a chamber where Republicans now hold 71 of the 120 seats.

They include Rep. Shelly Willingham of Edgecombe County, who is now one of three chairmen leading the alcoholic beverage control committee. Also, veteran Rep. Michael Wray of Northampton County was elevated to one of four senior chairmen of the powerful House Finance Committee.

Democrats received chairmanships during the 2021-22 session. But Moore’s decision to award gavels to members of the opposing party this year could help Republicans assert influence should they attempt to override potential vetoes by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Republicans are one seat short of holding a veto-proof majority in the chamber, so Democratic support for overrides is likely needed.

House leadership also chose GOP Rep. Keith Kidwell of Beaufort County to join Wray as a new finance committee senior chairman, joining returning Reps. John Bradford of Mecklenburg County and Mitchell Setzer of Catawba County at the post. A previous senior chairman, GOP Rep. John Szoka, didn’t seek reelection last fall. Kidwell and Wray were vice chairs during the previous session.

The senior chairmen of the House Appropriations Committee remain GOP Reps. Dean Arp of Union County; Donny Lambeth of Forsyth County; and Jason Saine of Lincoln County. Wray and Sauls also remain chairs of the House Ethics Committee.

Tuesday’s list also shows that 18-term GOP Rep. Julia Howard of Davie County has regained some prominence in committees after a public feud with Moore over a tax relief bill led him to remove Howard as a senior chair of the finance committee in 2021. Howard will be on the second tier of the committee’s leadership — labeled a chair — and she will be the top leader of a new unemployment insurance committee. The House also has created a new “oversight reform” committee. There are now three judiciary committees, down from four.

The General Assembly met for one day last week to pick new chamber leaders like Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger, who has already announced the Senate’s committee assignments. The legislature reconvenes Jan. 25 to begin the two-year session in earnest.