Trying Being a Representative
By: Andrea Danchi
Have you ever heard someone say, “Why should I vote? It doesn’t make any difference anyway.” And, if you do vote, do you ever say to yourself, “Ok. I voted for the good guys, so now what are they going to do for me? Do they really care, and are they going to support my values?” After all, that is what you voted for them to do. However, things like the latest scandal in the former leadership of the North Carolina State House shake the people’s faith in their leaders.
So, we ask, “Are there any elected officials that are truly looking out for the people’s interests?” There are. One such individual is State House Representative Paul Stam. Representative Stam has served the state of North Carolina honorably for many years. He firmly stands for the people of this state and for things that are best for them. He is a strong Christian and supports values that are grounded in his faith. Over the years, he has consistently shown that he respects the position of leadership that the people of this state have placed in his care. He has not only stated what he believes, but has also proven what he believes by standing firm in his positions against constant opposition. Not only is Representative Stam serving the people as a House Member, but he also became leader of Republicans in that body. I recently had the opportunity to ask Mr. Stam about his work in the legislature.
I started by asking Representative Stam how he became involved in politics. He jovially related the following story: He actually became involved in legislative politics almost accidentally. In 1984, he was active in Wake County Right to Life. The chairman of the state Republican Party approached him and asked if he would put his name on the ballot as a candidate for the State Senate. This would give the Republicans thirty days to find a “real” candidate, after which he could then withdraw from the race. Since the deadline was noon that day, Mr. Stam agreed to step into the position until a real candidate could be found. However, five minutes later, in Harnett County, another person registered to run. According to election rules in those days he could not withdraw from the race. “Unfortunately for me, I was stuck,” he stated with a chuckle. “So I decided I would try to win.” He went on to win the primary, and although Mr. Stam ended up losing his first election, with some quick figuring, he realized that he could probably win his State House district. After one try and failure, he ran again in 1988 and was elected to the House.
According to Mr. Stam, the main responsibilities of a House Representative are to propose new laws, and to vote on laws proposed by others as well. Being a lawyer has helped him in his work in the legislature much like having studied medicine would help a surgeon in a hospital. “It helps you to know what’s going on,” he said. He further explained that, as a lawyer, he knows the existing laws and therefore knows which ones need to be changed. I also asked him how his spiritual beliefs affect his work. Promptly, and with enthusiasm, he responded with three clear ways that they affect him as a legislator. Number one, they are the motivation for his work. “You’re not in it for the glory,” he said, “and certainly not for money.” Secondly, as a Christian, on specific issues such as life, death, and justice, Mr. Stam stated, “(one’s) beliefs from the Bible change the way you vote when there are relatively clear Biblical principles.” Finally, Mr. Stam said that his spiritual beliefs change the way he deals with people. He stated, “Christians should deal more transparently and forthrightly as opposed to the secrecy and the wheeling and dealing by which many representatives operate.”
I asked Representative Stam how the legislature works. He said that during an odd year, the session begins at the end of January and goes through August. During an even year, the session lasts from mid May through August. On occasion, there will also be special sessions. One of the main objectives of a legislative session is that the legislature pass a state budget. Without a budget little money can be spent by the state. He commented, “A lot of government services require that a budget be passed.” Services such as teachers and Medicaid fall into this category. They are provided via appropriations, and almost all appropriations are in the annual budget.
For 2007-2008, Representative Stam was elected leader of the Republicans by his fellow Republican house members. I asked him how much his job had changed because of his appointment. He stated that there was a great increase in the amount of work. He said, “I had to make hundreds of additional phone calls and visits.” He also commented that his job this year was much more involved, and that he was in charge of coordinating a lot more things. “On the flip side of that,” as he put it, he was able to delegate much of his previous work to other house members. Thus the changes were not overwhelming. His new position also required more people skills. When he became leader of the Republicans, he had two main goals. Number one, he wanted to get the House Republicans voting together. The Republican Caucus had been disjointed for many years because of deep divisions in their midst. His second goal was to get the Republicans to vote more conservatively on issues. Representative Stam seemed to be very pleased with Republican Caucus’ work in both of these areas. “Towards those goals, we made great progress,” he said with confidence.
Since they were able to accomplish those things this year, I asked Representative Stam how the recent changes in leadership had affected this past session. “Well, it was night and day,” he said. “In 2006 we had a criminal up there as leader.” He stated that although the new Speaker of the House Joe Hackney has very liberal values, he is a well-respected man who isn’t engaged in criminal activities. He said that the new speaker was much easier to deal with.
I asked if Speaker Hackney was willing to work across party lines to achieve common goals. Stam said, “Well if it’s a common goal, yes, but he won’t help us at all on things that he doesn’t like.” For example, the speaker single-handedly killed several bills including the Marriage Amendment. However, Mr. Stam felt that many of the Republicans’ triumphs this year were behind the scenes, stopping bad bills and helping to shape the budget.
Looking towards the future I asked if he had any specific bills that he would like to see passed during the short session (2008). He mentioned two: The first is House Bill 878 “Eminent Domain.” This bill would keep the government from taking private property for anything other than public uses. That means that the government could not take your property and sell it to a hotel chain just because they would pay more taxes or because the government thinks the hotel chain would utilize it better. If the bill passes the Senate in 2008 (and the House agrees to any changes), because it is a Constitutional Amendment, it would be subject to a referendum by the people.
He also has hopes for House Bill 388 “Tax Credits for Children with Special Needs.” This bill would give a $6,000 credit per year to the parents of moderately or severely disabled children so that their parents can afford to send them where they will receive the best education possible. Currently the public school is their only option if they can’t afford other avenues. In most cases these parents cannot afford alternative forms of education because medical expenses make it financially impossible. Often the public schools cannot provide the best education for that child. Representative Stam’s bill would give the parents the ability to find the best way to educate their son or daughter with special needs. Mr. Stam said, “Those are my two personal goals for the 2008 session.” I also asked him what he is working on now during the break between sessions. He said that, aside from practicing law one of his duties is to raise enough money to get conservative people elected to seats in the House of Representatives in the next election (2008).
I ended by asking Representative Stam some questions on a lighter note. I asked him what his favorite bill was that he ever sponsored. Interestingly, he said, “The first bill I ever sponsored was maybe not that significant to other people, but to me it was.” It was House Bill 13 “Non Resident Guardian for Minor” filed in 1989. This bill changed North Carolina law that said if both the parents of a minor passed away, the clerk of court was to appoint a guardian for that minor. But it was required that the guardian be a resident of North Carolina. Mr. Stam’s first bill sought to change that law so that the guardian didn’t have to be a North Carolina resident.
One of the things Representative Stam enjoys the most is debating on the House floor. “I love making speeches on bills,” he said. “A great joy is to defeat a bad bill. When you look on the scoreboard, and one goes down to defeat, it’s great.” He spoke this with an air of great triumph. When I asked him what activities he enjoys when he’s not working, he answered, “Well, tennis,” he paused, then with a smile he continued, “and playing with the grandchildren. Those are probably the two fun things for me.” My final question was whether he would be running for office in the next election and, if so, if he expected to have an opponent. He eagerly jumped in, “I will, and I’ve already got one. He announced before I even started my term.” I asked Mr. Stam if he thought he could take him easily. He chuckled and said, “I know I can take him, I don’t know about easily.”
This interview confirmed for me that there are good men and women in office who are standing for what’s right, and for what is best for the people. The reason a person like Mr.Stam can be in office is because people with conservative values voted. Now he works very day to protect the values you believe in.