Mount Airy and Surry County may have just gotten a little boost in influence and standing in the General Assembly.
Sarah Stevens, a city attorney entering her fifth term in the North Carolina House of Representatives, last week was elected Speaker Pro Tempore when the house convened in a largely ceremonial day of legislators taking the oath of office and committee leadership roles being filled.
Stevens’ appointment means in the absence of Speaker of the House Tim Moore, she would preside over that legislative body, a post that will surely grow her already meaningful influence in the House.
It also is another step in an impressive and praise-worthy legislative career for Stevens.
Starting with her first term in 2009, Stevens has quietly learned the ins-and-outs of the legislative body. She’s served on a number of key committees: appropriations, judiciary, juvenile justice, education, state personnel, ethics, health and human services, environment and ethics.
She’s held vice chair or chairman posts on children, youth and families, appropriations on justice and public safety, as well as the judiciary committee.
Those committee assignments and leadership posts allowed Stevens to get a well-rounded insight into many of the key issues facing the General Assembly, and they allowed her to demonstrate her leadership abilities in sitting at the head of some of those bodies.
As an attorney, she understands how a law is crafted has wide-ranging ramifications, not just for institutions but for everyday people.
While a staunch Republican, she’s also pragmatic in the way she approaches issues, sometimes gently prodding away from the party line without actually challenging party leadership.
An example of this is the mess the General Assembly has made of assembly and Congressional district seats. North Carolina has lost legal challenges to the 2010 redrawing of the district lines at nearly every level of court, even being forced to redraw the Congressional lines and hold a special election last fall. Now, the state is arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court against a judges’ ruling that even the General Assembly seats have to be redrawn, with a special election this year.
When the Republican Party seized control of the Assembly in 2010, and we were among many in the state calling for the GOP to appoint an independent, non-partisan body to redraw these districts, calls the Republican Party ignored.
Stevens, however, has drafted legislation calling for this very thing, though her bill calls for the change to take place in 2030. On first glance, that seems a little cheap — kicking the can down the road so that it likely doesn’t affect her.
Ask the representative why she targeted 2030 and she’ll tell you: the Senate Republicans had made it clear they would not entertain the move if it affected their present seats. While many would still like to be in the General Assembly in 2020, a scant three years away, few could project themselves still being in office in 2030, seven office terms away.
That’s smart legislation — doing what’s right in a manner that allows it the best chance of approval, even if on a delayed basis.
That’s the type of forward thinking and leadership Stevens has displayed, and that’s why she has continued rising up the ranks in the General Assembly.
And most important of all, her constituents — residents of Mount Airy and Surry County — are better served because of her growing influence in Raleigh.