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State House picks dual speakership

In a historic sitting Wednesday, the North Carolina State House selected two people - one Democrat and one Republican - to share the position of Speaker of the House.

The chamber, which is split 60-60 between Republicans and Democrats, was unable to elect a single speaker in the week prior to Wednesday. After the resolution that allowed Democrat Jim Black and Republican Richard Morgan to be co-speakers passed, representatives gave a standing ovation.

This is the first time in North Carolina's history that the position has been held by two people and the first time since 1866 that it has taken more than one day to reach a decision about who the speaker should be.

The final decision received mixed reactions from representatives on the floor. While many seemed relieved, some were concerned about the consequences.

"We had no problem with power sharing," said Republican Sam Ellis, who voted in favor of the resolution but felt that the candidates chosen were the wrong people for the job.

"The chair is in the hands of a pair of tyrants," he added.

Others were more optimistic.

"I think they will [work together] as best they can," said Democrat Mickey Michaux, Durham's representative, adding a caveat. "It's going to be rocky to start with. There's still a 50-50 split."

In previous votes, Black received 60 of the 120 possible votes, one short of a majority. Morgan received only five votes and a third candidate, George Holmes, took the remaining 55.

This breakdown did not change throughout the last week, forcing the House to find another solution.

The first resolution put forward Wednesday by Democrat William Culpepper nominated Jim Black as speaker. The resolution received only 60 votes, so Black was once again one vote short of becoming speaker.

There was some confusion in the House when Republican Carey Allred - who had voted against the resolution - suggested the House vote again on the resolution. Allred, however, did not change his vote and the resolution failed once again.

After a failed motion to adjourn, Culpepper put forward a second resolution suggesting that there should be "power sharing" between Black and Morgan.

"It provides for them to serve on alternative days," Culpepper stated in his explanation of the resolution.

With 39 representatives opposed, the resolution passed to applause and sighs. Morgan and Black were escorted to the front of the room by members of their respective parties and were sworn in.

Black then made a short speech about the importance of working together in the future. "It is time for us to put our wounded egos aside and time to start legislation that will improve the lives of our citizens," Black said.

The House co-speaker continued by highlighting the issues for which he said both parties were striving: the best education for children and the best care for the ill. He also told the House that the two parties had similar aims with regard to their fundamental duty to help citizens and find better ways to spend taxes.

"All of us know that this is going to be a tough session," he said. "[But] working together, we can make this one of the best sessions in this state's history."

Morgan is expected to give remarks Thursday.

At the conclusion of the speech, the new co-speakers were each given a gavel, which they pounded three times in unison. The House then adjourned.

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