This session, the state legislature continues to work on the budget while moving historic policy; limits on abortion after the first trimester, sports betting, and broadening school choice. Meantime, Republicans exercise their super-majority, overriding vetoes stamped by the term-limited governor.
Amid those headlines, the North Carolina legislative building is quietly turning 60 years old.
The symmetry of its architecture seems calm on the outside; even angles pitching perfectly against one another in four angular domes. The state seal, embedded in the entryway, welcomes visitors and punctuates the massive red carpeted stairs just inside the brass doors.
Once inside though, the soaring entry and travertine-tiled hallways give way to four garden courtyards each looking almost exactly alike. Newcomers wander a confusing maze of identical squares and halls, reaching the end only to realize they took the wrong one.
The building’s simplicity is deceiving, and it can take years to navigate confidently. It’s symbolic of the legislature itself.
Completed in 1963 on Jones Street, the “People’s House” was designed by architect Edward Durrell Stone. While it has a clear 1960s vibe, it still looks modern. Stone designed open mezzanines and courtyards for people to gather just outside the elected members’ offices. The only round area, the rotunda between the House and Senate chambers, is filled with natural light with space for quiet negotiations, quick chats, and at times loud protests.
This building has been a constant in my professional life, as it has for many other North Carolinians, and the relationships I’ve built there on both sides of the aisle have helped shape me.
As a 17-year-old page from Broughton High School, sponsored by Rep. Casper Holroyd of Wake County, I spent much of my time there delivering papers and coffee up and down the wrong hallways. I always looked for the big brass chamber doors to know where I was. In college, I worked as a reporter from the basement studio next to the cafeteria, cranking out short news stories for UNC-TV’s Statelines.
My late mother-in-law worked in the House Principal Clerk’s office for years. As toddlers, my kids loved to visit her at work, their little shoes slapping those tile floors and eating homemade banana pudding in the cafeteria. The wonderful people working in that familiar haven of comfort food always acted like they knew them, even if they didn’t, and rang up their meals with a smile and a “discount.”
Years later, when I returned to work for Majority Leader Edgar Starnes of Caldwell County, it all flooded back to me. The smells, the food, the kindness – and the universal desire, regardless of party, to make North Carolina the best possible home for everyone.
North Carolina’s seal hangs at the front of each chamber and reads Esse Quam Videri, the state motto, “To Be Rather than to Seem.” It’s from Greek philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero’s essay, De Amicitia, explaining how to be a good friend. Among the points he makes is that true friendship is between people of good moral character, and that friendship makes one a better person. He writes that real friendship requires trust, wisdom, and basic goodness.
Like that 60-year-old building, the relationships and the ideology built at the N.C. General Assembly stand the test of time. While politics will always be a part of the culture, I have found over the years that all who serve within those walls want to build a better state. They want all children to thrive, business owners and their employees to grow, and the state to stand as a beacon of liberty and prosperity.
Cicero’s essay on friendship explains the dynamic well. He says that real friendships are built by appreciating people not for what they can give us, but because we find a kindred soul in them. Differences on policy often split members. Finding some common ground, a kindred soul, and using that friendship to build a prosperous and free future for our state will be their legacy, and that of the legislative building.
Editor in Chief