In minority, Rep. McManus makes respect her mission

Oct. 10, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Her first experience as a state legislator often was infuriating, but state Rep. Deb McManus said she’s nevertheless looking forward to returning to Raleigh to work as a member of the Democratic minority.

“While I enjoyed being there, it was very frustrating at times,” she said. “Obviously the major pieces of legislation — the budget, the voting bill [and cuts to] Medicaid expansion and unemployment insurance — were things that were particularly frustrating.”

McManus, an educator who lives in Siler City and represents Lee and Chatham counties in the N.C. House, not only saw policies she disagreed with get passed. Every single piece of legislation McManus sponsored ended up buried in committee — even local bills like one to set up a special election for the Chatham County School Board to fill the seat she vacated, or to give the Lee County School Board more calendar flexibility.

And then there were times, she said, when some from the other side were vindictive for seemingly no reason other than to be that way.

“It didn’t seem to be [related to] something we were doing at the moment,” McManus said. “It was just, ‘You were in control for so long, and now we’re in charge.’ It seemed almost like revenge — or payback. I guess payback is a better word.”

There’s nothing to do but let it roll off and move on, she said, adding that most people she’s met in the General Assembly have been cordial, even if they don’t always agree.

“Very often, I call my daughter and vent to her, and she reminds me why I want to be there, and she gets me on an even keel again,” McManus said. “I enjoy the process, I enjoy being there and I enjoy many of the people. So I am actually looking forward to going back.”

And when she gets back, she knows what she wants to pursue. There’s even a decent chance it could succeed, she said, because her idea might receive bipartisan support: restoring the extra pay for teachers with a master’s degree (which was cut in the most recent budget), or at least grandfathering in everyone now pursuing an advanced degree.

“I think a lot of the leadership of the Republican Party was in favor of grandfathering everybody in,” McManus said.

Compromise may be the only way for Democrats to pass laws in a legislature with overwhelming GOP control, which is why McManus said she has good feelings both about that bill and another she said would hopefully help local businesses, particularly auto mechanics. It died in committee this summer because of issues with some legal wording, she said, but she thinks it has a decent shot in the next session.

“I was pleasantly surprised because I had several Republicans helping me try to get it worded correctly,” she said.

And although McManus has built bridges in some areas, such as that bill, she said she still feels disrespected in others — even now, during the break between sessions.

McManus, a longtime member and former chairman of the Chatham County Board of Education, as well as a member of the board of directors for the N.C. School Boards Association, said she specifically requested to be on the House education committee that is meeting this fall. She also indicated that she’d be willing to serve on any other committee if the education panel was full, she said, but she never heard back. The two other local legislators, Republicans Mike Stone and Ronald Rabin, are both serving as a chairman of at least one committee over the break.

So in the meantime, with no work in Raleigh, McManus is passing the time with family and by visiting local groups and events. She met with teachers at Silk Hope School, a public K-8 school in Siler City, last week and said she came away re-energized to work at scaling back education cuts and restoring some of the respect she said teachers feel they have unduly lost.

“They all feel very frustrated right now,” she said. “... A lot of it comes back to feeling like they’re not being respected as the professionals they are. [Restoring that respect] is definitely my goal. It’s why I ran for election, and hopefully I’ll be able to do more in the future.”