RALEIGH — Forgive me if I am feeling rather old these days.
The General Assembly just came to town, and all the new faces caused me to reflect a bit on the past and do a little counting..
My exercise in mathematics came up with the following: I’ve now been covering the legislature longer than all but 11 of the 120 state House members and six of the 50 state senators serving.
The numbers become smaller if you drop those — like Sen. Bob Rucho of Charlotte or Sen. Dan Blue of Raleigh — who haven’t been continuously serving since I began reporting on the legislature, first for the Associated Press and now for this column and the Insider state government news service, in 1998.
That I’ve arrived at such a moment may not be just about my age.
The legislature has seen unprecedented turnover over the last four years.
A lot of media attention has focused on Republican control of the legislature, and the policy shifts initiated by GOP lawmakers, during that time. The turnover and relative inexperience of the current crop of legislators deserves as much attention.
On Wednesday, 16 of the 50 senators who were sworn into office were newcomers to the chamber. In the House, 41 of 120 members are freshmen.
That freshman class comes on the heels of 42 of the 170 legislative seats changing hands two years earlier.
So, on opening day of the 2013 North Carolina General Assembly, 99 of those 170 legislators were sitting in seats occupied by someone else four years ago.
Clearly, Raleigh is not Washington.
In some respects, that is a good thing.
New people bring a fresh set of eyes to policy predicaments.
This latest group of legislators also appears a bit younger than previous legislatures, and having a legislative body filled with mostly retirees does not always lend itself to understanding the plight of middle-class workers trying to raise school-age children.
But the turnover also means that the legislature loses institutional memory, that there will be fewer lawmakers who remember how to dodge a recurring pitfall or pothole that ensnared a previous legislature.
In the House, in particular, there will be fewer veteran legislators who know how to put a legislative committee through its paces and put together bills that are vetted and avoid unintended consequences.
And, as former state Rep. Carolyn Justice lamented as she left office last year, new legislators sometimes proceed unaware of longstanding rules of decorum that allow the legislative process to occur.
Now, for my mea culpa: In all these years covering the legislature, I’ve made a habit of pretty much ignoring freshmen and even sophomore legislators.
With 170 people to watch, you can’t pay attention to all of them. In the past, they have rarely led committees or been chief sponsors of weighty, statewide bills.
Now that they represent better than half the legislature, I guess 15 years into this thing I will be changing my ways.
Capitol Press Association