It’s no secret that many in the current Republican majority in the legislature have little tolerance for differing opinions. From arresting demonstrators to talking down to, and sometimes outright insulting constituents, they have shown a paternalistic “We know better than you” approach to governing. I say many because I don’t want to paint all Republicans with the same brush. Just because I don’t agree with their politics doesn’t mean that I can’t respect a legislator who works for their constituents and stands by their principles rather than being guided by ambition, party interests, or fundraising concerns. Howard Coble was a prime example of this. I don’t think I agreed with a single political stance the Congressman ever took, but I always respected him because he worked as hard, or harder than any Congressperson in North Carolina to assist any constituent who came to his office for help.
By all indications, Rep Robert Brawley (R-Iredell) was another such legislator. One look at his old campaign website and I can tell you that Rep Brawley and I stand about as far apart on most issues as two people can possibly be. However, events that have transpired over the last year have given me greater respect for the Representative and his commitment to his constituents and his principles. During the last legislative session, Rep Brawley took issue with Speaker of the House Thom Tillis’ handling of several issues that directly affected his constituents. Front and center was the issue of a municipal broadband bill brought forth by Rep Brawley on behalf of his constituents. Municipal broadband would have allowed smaller communities to create their own broadband networks and administer them as a public utility in areas where companies like Time Warner and Comcast don’t provide service because they don’t see it as cost effective. When Tillis squashed the bill, Brawley privately wrote him a harsh letter accusing him of being in the pocket of Time Warner, who oppose municipal broadband because it threatens their de facto monopoly on broadband in much of the state.
It was Thom Tillis who made the fight public when he had the house clerk read the letter into record on the house floor, because clearly disagreeing with the Speaker cannot be tolerated and is apparently grounds for a public shaming. It was because of this spat that Brawley was forced to resign his post as co-chair of the House Finance Committee, one of the most powerful positions in state government. Tillis clearly thought he had won the fight, right up until two weeks before the Senate primary when he published (openly this time) a scathing letter accusing Tillis of cronyism, and being in the pocket of big corporations at the expense of small businesses. At the same time the Republican Party was working hard to unseat Brawley, who ultimately lost his primary to party-backed challenger John Fraley by 106 votes. Apparently this wasn’t enough for Tillis and the pro-business establishment, and this week Rep Brawley was effectively excommunicated from the Republican House Caucus in a 52-11 vote.
Thom Tillis has shown himself to be a thin-skinned bully. He turned a private disagreement into a public brawl so he could show everyone the consequences of disagreeing with the Speaker’s office. He didn’t even bother to show up for the vote removing Brawley from the Caucus. I don’t think Rep Brawley is an angel, or some kind of folk hero, but he stuck to his guns when he thought it was for the good of his constituents and his party, even when it cost him his committee appointments and ultimately his seat, and for that he should be applauded.