This week, in part two of series that began last week, NC Family president John Rustin talks with Representative Paul “Skip” Stam, who represents the southern portion of Wake County in the N.C. House, about his career in the General Assembly.
INTRODUCTION: Representative Paul “Skip” Stam (R-Wake) is an attorney based in Apex, North Carolina, who is currently serving his eighth term in the North Carolina House of Representatives, representing the southern portion of Wake County. Rep. Stam has held a variety of leadership positions in the State House, most recently as Speaker Pro Tempore, but he recently announced that he will not seek re-election to the House in 2016.
We are pleased to have Rep. Stam back with us on “Family Policy Matters” to continue a discussion we began last week about his career in the North Carolina General Assembly, and what’s next for him following the conclusion of the 2016 legislative session.
JOHN RUSTIN: Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about your time in the General Assembly. You were first elected to the North Carolina House in 1988, and you served one term at that time.
REP. PAUL STAM: Then I was defeated many times! But I came back. I want to mention that I have lost six elections, and I say that to encourage other people, who may have lost an election or two, to realize that it’s not the end of the world.
JOHN RUSTIN: Absolutely! Well, persistence definitely pays off and in your case it has. Not only did you serve a term from 1989 to 1990, but then you were elected again in 2002, and you’ve served seven terms in the House since then. What led you initially to run for public office?
REP. PAUL STAM: It’s somewhat embarrassing—it was an accident. I was politically active. I was co-chairing Bill Cobey’s congressional campaign. I had served several years as chair of Wake County Right to Life and had put out lots of yard signs and mail for pro-life candidates of both parties, because in those days there were plenty of pro-life Democrats, unlike now. So I was known to the political community, but I did not have any thoughts of running for office. I was sitting at my desk one day, and the state party chair called me up and asked me to file by noon, so that I could be a place-holder. Then, when they found a real candidate, I could withdraw, and they could put the real candidate on the ballot. So, I did that, and didn’t even tell my law partner who was a very active Democrat because he wasn’t there, and I was going to get out shortly. So I went down and filed with about five minutes to go, but someone else filed for the same office in Harnett county that I didn’t know about, and the rule was if you had a primary, you couldn’t withdraw. So I didn’t mind withdrawing, but I sure wasn’t going to lose, so that’s how I started running for office.
JOHN RUSTIN: That competitive spirit has served you well. As our listeners may know, you have served in the legislature as the chairman of multiple committees, as the House Majority Leader and most recently as Speaker Pro Tempore in the House. And by any measure Rep. Stam, you have done a tremendous amount of work in the state legislature. As you look back over your career in the General Assembly, what do you feel have been your biggest accomplishments and what have you been most proud of?
REP. PAUL STAM: I’m going to limit it to those of particular interest to the pro-family community. There are plenty of other things about technical, tax issues, and poll attachments and single-sales factors that may not be of general interest. But clearly for the pro-life community, the two most important things are the Women’s Right to Know Act, which now has a 72-hour waiting period, plus a lot of required consents, and also cutting off all the tax funding for abortion, and also keeping it out of the federal exchange in North Carolina, there’s no abortion coverage for those policies sold under the exchange.
JOHN RUSTIN: I know over the years as we’ve had meetings to discuss pro-life legislation and policies and changes to the law, improvements that can be made, you as a leader have always laid out some very specific guidelines of what we as a group need to be looking at to ensure that we’re spending our time most effectively and efficiently, and the number one measure is, “Is this actually going to save lives of unborn children.” I’ve heard you say that over and over again. And I think something that our listeners, it’s important for them to understand, that we can talk about public policy and oftentimes it can seem impersonal and cold, and sometimes even theoretical, but it does come down in the end to the lives of these precious unborn children. And that’s something that you have really committed much of your career, both in the legal arena and in the legislative arena, to do.
REP. PAUL STAM: John, there are two different approaches for legislation. One is utopian, that is, I’ll present the bills as if I were a dictator what the law should be, and those generally go nowhere. The second approach is, “What can I do to make things as better as I can?” and that can lead [to] victories[that] beget other victories. Defeats beget other defeats, so just throwing a bill up in the air that gets shot down and defeated negatively impacts the ability of the folks on your side to get something passed the next time. So, we always try to propose bills that number one, can pass, number two, will be effective in the pro-life area—saving actual human lives—or in the school choice area, getting actual kids in seats in the schools where they need to be, and third, that will not be struck down by the courts. You know, some of the federal courts are very bizarre. So, you want to try to structure things in such a way that they actually accomplish your purpose, rather than just show off.
JOHN RUSTIN: And I think you have been uniquely qualified based on your experience, your education, your background, and your heart, to do just that. I mean you have really been able to balance the legal aspects and look at the judicial side of things. The legislative side of things as well—what is it reasonable to be able to get passed through the General Assembly, and then work to do that, and do it in a very strategic manner. And also we’ve got the Executive branch out there too with the Governor and agencies that implement rules and regulations, and if all of those parts of the system are not working favorably and properly, then those good laws can get run over roughshod, and we’ve seen that in the past. But fortunately in recent years we’ve seen a lot of great gains, especially as it relates to things that you’ve talked about, sanctity of human life issues, school choice issues, and things of that sort.
REP. PAUL STAM: John, what I do read in the blogosphere and on the Internet is to the effect of, “If we don’t get our way and if our folks don’t stand up and demand that we get our way 100 percent, they’re not doing their job.” That is a failure of understanding of civics. We have a divided government, and there are pros and cons of a divided government. One of the difficulties is you cannot get everything you want done unless you have total control of both houses of all legislative bodies, all governors and all courts, and that just isn’t the case. We don’t have that, so what we have to do is accomplish what we can, when we can, at every opportunity.
JOHN RUSTIN: You have been a shining example of exactly how to do that, and as I’ve mentioned before, you have been a champion in the arenas of sanctity of human life, of marriage, religious liberty, school choice, parental rights, responsible government, and you have fought bad policies as well, like government sponsored gambling. I know we fought side-by-side against the lottery for years and years, and also most recently, efforts to expand Indian gambling in North Carolina, and video sweepstakes and those types of things, and….
REP. PAUL STAM: John, that’s the news item that never, from the last session, about how close we came to losing those fights, but it never came up because we defeated it behind the scenes. A lot of that was the Family Policy Council and other similar groups, but they didn’t get a lot of press because we beat them other ways.
JOHN RUSTIN: Right, and a lot of work in the legislature is done behind the scenes, and often very quietly, things that don’t necessarily make it into the newspaper, but are as important, and sometimes even more important than what you may read about on the front page of the News & Observer, or other papers across the state. Now, Rep. Stam, as I mentioned earlier, you are finishing out the 2016 session this year. What do you hope to accomplish before your time in the General Assembly comes to an end?
REP. PAUL STAM: I have some odds and ends in criminal law, property law, regulatory reform, but on things that your listeners may be interested in, we need to fix funding for charter schools. On school choice, the special needs scholarships are under-funded—we don’t need to change the program so much, but they were under-funded. In the pro-life area, there are two initiatives that I’m going to try to get done, but I’m not going to tell that on the radio because if I were a spy for the abortion industry, I’d be listening. And then on the religious freedom area, we do need to address that because you know this last summer we had this decision by the US Supreme Court that has to be recognized and dealt with, in the marriage context, so that people who take their faith seriously are not going to be prejudiced and discriminated against.
JOHN RUSTIN: And that’s a huge issue, and something that we’ve talked a lot about on this program. I would be remiss, Rep. Stam, if I didn’t give you the opportunity to—in considering the years that you’ve spent in public office and the fact that we’re entering yet another election season—to give advice to those who may be considering or who actually are running for office in the state legislature. What advice would you give to someone who is considering, or who is presently running for the state legislature, who may not have served before? If you could sit them down, and say, “Look when you take this office, if you’re fortunate enough to be elected, these are things that you need to be aware of and be mindful of.”
REP. PAUL STAM: First, I would say that the newer members over the last few years have been progressively smarter than their seniors. I’m very serious about that. We’ve got really talented people in our freshman class, sophomore class, the candidates running now, that’s one thing. Second, I would say that if you’re first there, take the lead on subjects that you know something about. In other words, don’t just take issues that are ripped from the headlines, and say, “I’m going to do something about that.” On those, go to people that know something about the subject. Secondly, I would say, like in my own situation, all the stars don’t have to line up for you to run! If you don’t run, you can’t win. If you don’t win, you can’t serve. And just do it.
JOHN RUSTIN: And knowing your heart and your deep personal faith, do you think it’s important for Christians to step up and to serve in public office?
REP. PAUL STAM: Absolutely. They’d be the best servants, but on the other hand, I would rather have a well-grounded, moral non-Christian, who understands public policy over an ignorant Christian. In other words, there’s nothing about being a Christian that gives you all wisdom in knowing how to vote, but the combination of being a faithful Christian, plus studying the issues and understanding public policy is the best combination.
JOHN RUSTIN: And you represent that extremely well. Unfortunately Representative Stam, we are out of time. But I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart, and from the bottom of the heart of the North Carolina Family Policy Council and our supporters across the state for taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us on Family Policy Matters to share about your life and work in the General Assembly, and for the commitment that you have made to serve the citizens of the district that you represent in Wake county, but also the citizens of the state as a leader in the North Carolina General Assembly. I speak for many when I say that we are going to miss you greatly after you’ve serve out the remainder of your term in the General Assembly, and are just appreciative of the sacrifices that you and Dottie, your family, have made over the years to be a consummate public servant in North Carolina. So thank you so much.
REP. PAUL STAM: Well, thank you, John, and to quote President Obama, even after I leave office in a year, I’ll still have a phone, and I’ll still have a pen.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, and we expect to hear from you often, and look forward to doing that.
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