John Blust, a maverick Republican state lawmaker from Guilford County, announced his retirement from the General Assembly on Tuesday, after serving 20 years in both the House and Senate. Blust frequently clashed with the leadership of his own party, but he ultimately decided to bow out after a court-imposed redistricting plan made his district more favorable for a Democrat to win.
Why did you decide to retire from the NC House?
A Republican could walk on water and not win that district. The public doesn’t understand the districts. They’re either a very safe Republican district or a very safe Democratic district. The representatives are not re-elected because they’re loved. But even the Republican districts in the old maps weren’t all that strong because Guilford’s becoming more blue. I think the Republican districts are more competitive.
I’m not really a power. I’m not on the Republican leadership team. I’ve been advocating for less power in the leaders and more in the members. It doesn’t play well with the leaders. It really has not been fun the last few years for me. I had more fun in the minority. One of the most disappointing things is when I realized we’re going to run things pretty much the same way as the Democrats.
What are you most proud of?
A lot of your readers wouldn’t agree, but we did some good things on the tax front that helped the economy. We did some good things on the regulatory front that helped the economy. We got spending under control.
How do you feel about leaving the General Assembly?
Once you’re gone, nobody remembers you. I saw Tony Rand, who used to be the power in the Senate; he was at the reception for UNC; during the long session they have a different reception for us to go every night. I was introducing one of the freshman lawmakers to him, and he turned to me, and said, “Who was that?” It’s smarter to stay away completely and not go back. Members covet these positions and start feeling they are that important. They really are not that important.
I’ve pretty much decided you’ve got to go without thanks. People talk about, “Oh, this person was a legend.” Not really. You can’t even go by what names are on the bill. Nationally, you’ve got Dodd-Frank, the Wagner Act, Gramm-Leach-Bliley. A lot of times those names can be deceptive. Someone else did the lion’s share of the work. Politics is an area where vanity reigns.
What would you tell Republican voters who don’t see a reason why their party shouldn’t go for maximum power?
If the Democrats do take back control, so much of what they’re saying now is going to be gone in an instant. It can backfire on us. I honestly believe you’d still have [Republican] Gov. [Pat] McCrory if you had voter ID [as a standalone measure]. We did voter ID in the House, and sent it over to the Senate. The Senate put 80 other provisions in the bill. They sent it back to us on the last night of the session and said, ‘Take it or leave it.’…. If it had only been a voter ID bill it would have been hard for a court to rule against that. Indiana’s voter ID law has been ruled Constitutional by the Supreme Court. When you put it together with all these other provisions, they found that it “surgically targeted African-American voters” [and struck it down]. The process can affect the outcome.
What should we do to restore democracy?
People don’t understand the inner workings of government…. They know something is wrong. Their elected representatives aren’t getting it done. A big part of it would be process and rules. We say we have a government of laws and not men. Legislative bodies need to be of rules, not men. Just like a court case you have rules of civil procedure and rules of criminal procedure, and someone enforces those so every litigant can understand their rights. You couldn’t put all this in the Constitution. The founders did not see political parties coming on the scene so quickly. I don’t think they saw these bodies being dominated by one person. [Although George Washington and James Madison were respected], anybody could have gotten up and made proposals and had them considered. That was the model of what a deliberative assembly should look like.
In the last session, 40 percent of the bills we passed were not on the calendar for that day…. None of them were time-sensitive like, “We need to do this today.” They all could have carried over for the next day, if not the next week. Everything we vote on should be on the calendar so if there’s someone in the public who wants to influence their legislator, they can. A couple years ago we had an abortion bill that went over as a motorcycle helmet safety bill in the House. Then the Senate made it into a “faith and family” bill. … I think the public’s entitled to notice so if they have any objection or if they support something they can try to influence something in the respective body. These are some of the fundamental rights, and we’re violating them in the way we do business. Yeah, your representative does get a vote, but what does it matter if everything’s been decided beforehand?