State Rep. Hanig on his first year in Raleigh

By on November 27, 2019

By Kip Tabb | Outer Banks Voice

A little over a year ago, Bobby Hanig was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives, sent to Raleigh by voters in Currituck, Dare, Hyde and Pamlico counties.

A self-described conservative Republican, the former Currituck County Commissioner had to defeat two Dare County residents— incumbent Republican State Representative Beverly Boswell in the primary and Democrat Tess Judge in the general election.

Reflecting on his first year in office, Hanig said there were both pleasant and unpleasant surprises on the job.

“Probably my biggest surprise when I got there, the first thing I found, and one of the best things I found, was how many people were there for the right reason,” he said in a Voice interview. “Not just the elected officials, but the people who work for them. The staff at the General Assembly. Most of the people there are there to do the best job for the state.”

But he says he quickly came to understand that politics on the state level were very different than local politics.

“The second day of orientation, on both sides of the aisle you could see in the freshman, the partisanship that quick…The decisions you make and the people you talk to have different agendas…[As commissioner] it was what was best for the county,” he noted. “You don’t really deal with social issues. Because you don’t deal with social issues, that was disappointing to see that immediately.”

In succeeding Boswell, Hanig replaced a hard-right conservative office holder who was a polarizing figure, even in a solidly Republican county like Dare. Among other things, her support for the repeal of the county’s plastic bag ban and backing of legislation that would turn local school board elections into partisan contests triggered a substantial backlash.

In the GOP primary race, Hanig emphasized stylistic differences with Boswell, suggesting a more collaborative approach and stressing his interest in heeding the wishes of his constituents. Perhaps not coincidentally, Hanig beat Boswell in her home county by about 400 votes — virtually the same margin he won by district-wide.

When it comes to coastal/environmental concerns, Hanig says bi-partisan cooperation is essential. Sea level rise, in particular, is something that he believes will require action across party lines.

“It is not a partisan issue,” he said. “You have to understand the long term. We’re fine right now, but thirty years from now where are you going to be? If you don’t do your part to preserve the sound, where is the hunting industry and the fishing industry going to be? And tourism.”

His stand on offshore drilling, while in sync with a number of Outer Banks GOP officials, seems to be at odds with the national Republican Party.

“I came out against offshore oil when I was a commissioner,” he said. “I knew enough to know that we’re on the precipice of being totally energy independent in United States of America…Why take a chance on ruining a billion-dollar [tourism] industry on something that we’re not going to get a lot of jobs out of it? It’s not worth the cost of ruining what we have.”

Generally, freshman legislators are told to speak little and learn how the process works. But Hanig said that, “I either sponsored or cosponsored 118 bills. I think I was the primary sponsor on 18 bills. Nine of them became bills.”

Representative John Szoka from Cumberland County is the Republican Conference Chair for the House. He said that from the beginning of the session, he could see that Hanig was different than most freshman legislators.

“Something he did do this session, which nobody else had done from out that way, the College of the Albemarle funding bill that got stuck last session,” Szoka said. “He pretty much single-handily broke that one free and he got it passed.”

The Senate bill was the version that was ultimately signed, but Hanig’s championing the bill was important, according to Szoka.

“The interesting thing about those kind of things, they’re local issues that everybody locally knows about, but you’ve got to get people in Raleigh excited enough to vote for it. He was able to do that where his predecessor was not,” Szoka said.

Hanig says the formula for getting things done is pretty basic.

“It’s about relationships…It isn’t all about getting up and speaking or when you’re in caucus talking all the time. You pick your times,” he said. “When you have an idea and you want it to become a law, contacting the right people. Talk to the rules chair so he knows where you’re coming from. When you have a committee meeting, contacting the committee members…You don’t want to go in there [with] what you think might be a good idea and someone else thinks that’s the craziest idea I’ve ever heard in my life.”

His Small Business Retirement Bill, on which he was a primary sponsor, comes from his experience as the owner of the Pool Guy with its small full-time workforce.

The bill establishes a bipartisan commission to study how to help small businesses set up retirement accounts for their employees. “Me being one [a small business owner], I tried it before and it was cumbersome,” he said.

Perhaps Hanig’s biggest disappointment was the debate on the controversial “infanticide bill,” a measure he helped to craft in caucus that would have made doctors and nurses subject to significant penalties, including prison, if they don’t provide care for or kill babies who survive an abortion procedure.

“To see the way that that was argued back and forth, that was really disappointing. To see the way people conducted themselves with extreme disrespect…The speaker was introducing somebody who had survived an abortion…the way the Democrat side gave this women no acknowledgement, it was extremely disrespectful. No matter what side of an issue you’re on, you should have more respect for people than that,” he said.

The bill was vetoed by Governor Cooper and an override vote was unsuccessful.

Perhaps Hanig’s most daunting task has been the aftermath of Dorian as he learned about the complexity and confusion that can go along with federal aid.

“It’s been very educational on the FEMA side,” he said. “Understanding the ins-and- outs of how FEMA works. What we need to do better on the legislative side, and on the county side, is educating expectations,” he said.

And he reflected on how overwhelming the disaster has been.

“There were 400-420 homes they pulled the meters on That blew me away for Ocracoke,” he said. “They’ve got a long road to recovery.”

His efforts have been noticed by Hyde County Manager Kris Cahoon Noble.

“He was working really hard for us before Dorian. He communicated back and forth, what we needed legislatively,” she said. “After Dorian it seems like he’s almost made it his full-time job to advocate with the people there for us. I’ve never heard from a legislator quite as much as I’ve heard from him.”

On November 1, the North Carolina House passed a $280 million relief package for Hurricane Dorian, but it has not yet been finalized.

“It went over to the Senate and the Senate has a different set of things from time to time. We’re in conference about that,” Hanig observed. “It’s like anything else, when the hoopla dies, you’ve still got to fight the fight.”

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  • Al

    So, I’m thinking that if sea level rise is a big concern, and offshore drilling jeopardizing the tourist industry is also a matter of immense gravity, isn’t the logical conclusion is that it’s necessary to allocate Occupancy Tax to fund beach nourishment in the Currituck OBX to protect the tourist industry? Seems like there’s a disconnect..

    Wednesday, Nov 27 @ 10:07 am
  • Brad Neal

    I know Bobby Hanig personally. His head and heart is in the right place. He is a bulldog and will give you his all to get things done. He does not kiss up to anybody. His reasoning is based on facts and common sense. We could use more like him.

    Thursday, Nov 28 @ 7:48 am
  • Spoony Rae

    I have a better idea for beach erosion, let’s spend your money if you own a beach house instead of someone else’s.

    Friday, Nov 29 @ 7:43 am
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