Rep. Stone touts significant session for General Assembly
He's no stranger to controversy, so it's understandable that some of the work Rep. Mike Stone is most proud of from this past legislative session was also some of the most debated.
"We made some very tough choices, but that's true leadership," Stone, a Jonesboro business owner who represents Lee and Harnett counties, said. "... Years from now, people will look at that session and say, 'That was historic.'"
Voter ID was one bill in particular he said will have far-reaching benefits, as was the reduction of personal and corporate income taxes. Stone said he wants to eventually remove the state's income taxes altogether but thinks the legislature took the right path by not doing it all at once.
When the next session starts in May, Stone said he wants to continue working on tax reform, as well as reducing the state's Medicaid overruns, which he said led to many other budget shortfalls. One of those — raises for state employees, including teachers — he said is near the top of the list moving forward.
Now in his second term as part of the Republican majority in the N.C. House, Stone previously served in a minority role on the more progressive Sanford City Council. That board was the target of one of his more controversial actions this summer — a local bill making its elections, and those of the Lee County Board of Education, partisan. Candidates for these boards previously did not have to declare their party affiliation.
That forced the city to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a primary election last month and also precluded Republican voters from having a say in the Sanford mayor's race because there was no GOP candidate, but Stone said it was the right thing to do. Those boards have always been political, he said; this just puts those politics out in the open.
Another local bill — which attempted to remove four members of Central Carolina Community College's board of trustees from office — led to a lawsuit from the trustees in question, who alleged political retribution.
Stone countered that the move had nothing to do with politics: "It was never about Republican-Democrat. We want them to operate by the law."
The plaintiffs alleged that although 12 of the board's appointees could be considered illegal, Stone only targeted the four of them because they're not registered Republicans and were also appointed by a board that isn't controlled by Republicans. The plaintiffs wanted Stone to testify under oath, but he didn't volunteer, and North Carolina legislators can't be forced to testify about their bills.
"You never want to do anything to jeopardize the case," Stone said. "And it's a court of law. You don't want to make it political."
Back in Raleigh, however, Stone even took on his own party at times. He voted to overturn two of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory's vetoes, for example, and he stood up to GOP leaders in the Senate when they tried to fast-track hydraulic fracturing with a wide-ranging bill.
Stone supports fracking but said he was uncomfortable with several items in that bill, particularly a stipulation that drilling permits could be issued even without rules in place — an idea he said ran counter to recent laws that opened the door for fracking in the state. So he and Moore County Rep. Jamie Boles rewrote the bill, and after much wrangling, their version prevailed.
"I found myself taking on the Department of Commerce, the Senate, everybody," Stone said. "And part of that was reminding people that we're Republicans, and we stand on our integrity. ... When you stand up and tell people what you're going to do — and that's how you sell it — you have to deliver that."
Before the next session starts in May, Stone is keeping busy locally with his store and his son's little league games, as well working as in Raleigh. He leads an energy committee and said he recently grilled the secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for declining a grant to test water quality in fracking areas; the secretary later wrote a letter for publication in The Herald explaining his decision.