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For a party that has some problems with women, it wasn’t a good look this week when a North Carolina Republican leader had very public problem with a woman.
In an unusually visible intra-party squabble, N.C. House speaker Tim Moore yanked a prominent committee assignment this week from longtime Republican Rep. Julia Howard of Mocksville. As the News & Observer’s Lucille Sherman reported, Howard was removed her position as a senior finance committee chair Tuesday after publicly opposing a Moore-backed bill that would benefit businesses that received coronavirus relief from the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
HB 334 would give tax breaks to businesses that received those loans, including dozens of lawmakers’ businesses. Howard rightly had concerns about lawmakers benefiting directly from legislation — one lawmaker, Mecklenburg’s John Bradford, would stand to gain some $20,000 if the bill passes, Sherman reports. Howard also said the bill wrongly left out North Carolinians who received PPP loans after 2020 or received unemployment benefits.
“Against the will of the caucus, Rep. Julia Howard in her role as one of four Senior House Finance Chairs did not move the bill,” Moore, along with Republican Reps. Sarah Stevens and John Bell, said this week in a statement. Howard did advance the bill, however, saying “I was given orders from the speaker that we would hear this PPP bill today.” Moore, who would benefit from the legislation, denies making Howard do something he says she wouldn’t do.
The Finance Committee change leaves three Republican men as senior chairs, accentuating a longtime lack of diversity on the GOP side of the aisle. While the current class of women is the largest in the history of the General Assembly, the partisan breakdown of women members is uneven, especially in the House. Twenty-one of the 51 Democrats in the House are female, but there are just eight women among the 69 House Republicans. In the Senate, 10 of 22 Democrats and six of 28 Republicans are women.
To be clear, there have been no public reports or private murmurings of Moore having troubling issues with female lawmakers. Republican leaders, including Moore, say Howard losing her position was about being a poor team member. “While we respect different viewpoints, committee chairs must be willing to put personal agendas aside and move forward with the will of the caucus,” Moore and company said in their statement.
Which, by the way, is a problem in itself. Disagreement is a feature, not a bug, and a party is stronger when it accommodates the legitimate concerns of its members instead of punishing those protests. As it turns out, amendments later addressed Howard’s concerns about post-2020 PPP recipients and taxing unemployment benefits, although not her ethical concerns about lawmakers directly benefiting from the legislation. The House passed the bill Thursday.
This also is true: It’s uncommon for leaders to yank chairmanships. Moore has done it before — in 2015 when he became speaker and removed ... Julia Howard as finance chair.
There has long been a sentiment among women lawmakers that they face an uphill battle to gain an equal voice and respect in the legislature. It’s not solely a Republican issue, and according to female lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, it includes women being steered toward softer issues and being asked, with frequency: “Who’s watching your kids?”
Thankfully, as more women win their way into office, their collective voice has become stronger. Still, Moore should reconsider his clumsy response to Howard. It’s a bad look for a Republican party that’s struggled with women voters and shown particular vulnerability of late with college-educated women. It also sends the wrong message about welcoming thoughtful dissent — and in this case, dissent that comes from a strong woman.