Familiar faces will lead the N.C. General Assembly over the next two years. The N.C. House and Senate both re-elected their top leaders without opposition as lawmakers returned to work in Raleigh.

The N.C. General Assembly, both the House and Senate, convened for the 2021-22 session noon Wednesday, Jan. 13.

A unanimous House elected Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, to a record-tying fourth term as House speaker. The House’s Democratic leader, Rep. Robert Reives, D-Chatham, explained that his party decided not to put forward a candidate. The move was designed to show an interest in avoiding partisan bickering.

Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, will serve as sixth term as president pro tempore after a unanimous re-election. Senate Democrats also decided not to put forward a candidate for the chamber’s top job.

The opening session was mostly ceremonial. The only debate in the Senate involved face masks. Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, told colleagues he had been planning to put forward an amendment to Senate rules that would require masks in the Senate chamber.

After seeing near-universal masks for members and staff in the opening session, Blue dropped that plan. Senators unanimously adopted chamber rules as proposed. Berger told Blue he would continue to recommend that Republican lawmakers wear masks during Senate sessions.

Berger hit on a variety of subjects in addressing the session. He recognized new Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and new N.C. Supreme Court justices, including his son Phil Berger Jr. and Tamara Barringer.

Berger talked about the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s response.

“Social ties are strained, government competencies and coffers are stressed, and countless lives have changed in ways we couldn’t have anticipated,” he said. “And after a year of waking each morning with the hope that someday we can go back to the way things were, thanks to the fastest successful vaccine development in history, we finally have the slight glimmer of what hopefully is a light at the end of the tunnel.

“That is something to celebrate.”

But an economic downtown is not, though the state has experience in dealing with such problems. 

“Because of steps taken over the past 10 years, we have the financial cushion of reserves and unspent revenues to bolster our state’s finances,” he said.

Berger also talked about working with Gov. Roy Cooper and paid tribute to former Senate leader Marc Basnight, who died last month. He talked about the violence in Washington, D.C., and the rule of law. He quoted Abraham Lincoln.

“So, today,” Berger said, “I take to heart Lincoln’s instruction that sober reason replace violent passions so each of us can faithfully advance our policy preferences through the civility and respect we show for each other and for the institution in which we are privileged to serve.”

“It’s critical,” Berger said, “that we put down the rhetorical weapons that inflame more division and, as Lincoln says, let reverence for the laws “be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice.

“Legislators come and go. Majorities expand and fade. But the institution must endure. All of us, from the most senior to the most junior, have a solemn responsibility to protect our form of government and honor the rule of law.”