RALEIGH — North State Journal recently caught up with House Majority Leader John Bell (R-Wayne) to ask him about the current legislative session and his endorsement last month of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s campaign for president.
The line of citizens, various officials and legislative members coming in and out of Bell’s office while North State Journal waited to speak with him was not only impressive but underscored the heavy and fast-paced workload handled by the Wayne County lawmaker.
“Just one word. Busy, busy, busy,” Bell said when asked to encapsulate the current legislative session.
Bell, who is in his sixth term in the House, was elected as House Majority Whip during his second term and House Majority Leader in 2016.
“People say always busy and that it is but so you’ve got to think, the last the last session – the last biennium you had the pandemic; you’re dealing with all that going on,” Bell said. “The world shut down. People didn’t come up here and that was a short session, a long session, and another short session.”
He added that now that now people have come back whereas in the previous sessions there were no receptions, people didn’t come visit and “everything was done by Zoom” so there was more free time in between bills to get things done.
“This year, everybody has come into the building, from constituents back home to advocacy groups to tour groups,” said Bell.
In terms of top priorities, Bell immediately said the budget.
“It’s always the budget,” Bell said. “The budget is the most important thing that we do. Everybody, especially in the long session…to get that created, to lay the foundation of how we’re going to operate – that’s what everybody expects us to do and that’s our priority.”
In terms of personal bills of interest, Bell said he always looks at the flood mitigation and the disaster relief areas, but that his job with regard to bills isn’t the same as other members of the House.
“My job is different than a lot of people because I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow,” Bell said.
“When things kind of fall apart, it’s my job to help put them back together or get a direction on where we’re going and how it’s going to play out… listen to concerns, make sure the speaker understands the concerns from the caucus, make sure that we have the votes to move forward on policy and that could change day in and day out,” said Bell.
When asked about the early estimates that with supermajorities in both chambers most legislative business might be wrapped up in June, Bell smiled and shook his head.
“There’s a myth that having big majorities or supermajorities is easy. I would tell you it’s harder,” Bell said. “Just because you’ve got the votes to override a veto, it doesn’t mean you always have the votes to override a veto.”
He went on to say that things don’t always move as fast with “so many people from different backgrounds” and from “many different parts of the state,” as well as factoring in personalities and positions held by new members.
“Trying to put the pieces together and make them work and make them fit, we always have the, I would say, sometimes the unrealistic hope, that we will be out by mid-June and this budget process is taking longer,” Bell explained. “We’ve got significant differences and how we want to move forward between the House and the Senate and ironing those differences out.”
He added that wrapping things up is “going to take a little bit longer than we initially thought.”
A number of “big lift bills” passed like new abortion limits and protecting women’s sports have already seen veto overrides. Out of out of the bigger bills that have been moving through this session, Bell singled out parental rights.
“I think there’s been a big push in North Carolina, it was a major piece in the in the last election and it just seems to get louder and louder and louder throughout our country, and that’s parents’ rights and some of the indoctrination pieces and pressure that’s been put on our children,” said Bell. “And making sure that our parents have a right and not only in how their child is able to grow up, but also in their education, that those have been big, big pieces of legislation that have moved through and are continuously moving through the process.”
While mentioning parental rights and the bill blocking sex surgeries for minors, Bell noted, “All these different issues have just kind of popped up at the same time and you can’t lump them all into one bill.” He added those issues needed to be addressed “strategically” and “done bill by bill, provision by provision.”
“And they are all issues that poll extremely well if you look at polling across our state and across our country,” said Bell. “I mean, you look at what Gov. DeSantis has done in Florida, a lot of these are actually campaign platforms for folks on a national level. It’s just when you get into the policy side of them, they’re very deep. They’re very detailed, big lift bills.”
A June Harvard/Harris Poll showed 78% of Americans believe puberty blockers and gender surgery should only be allowed for those over the age of 18. Similarly, 79% oppose laws in their state that allowing sex change surgery and puberty blockers for minors to happen without parental permission.
Bell, who hails from the Goldsboro area of Wayne County, spent well over a decade involved in business development efforts in banking and commercial insurance. He currently is a board member for RISE Capital, “a global investment firm that focuses on making expansion-stage investments in Internet businesses in the most prominent emerging markets.”
In late June, Bell and close to 20 legislators endorsed the presidential campaign of Gov. Ron DeSantis. Bell led the effort, stating “Gov. DeSantis is a principled leader, a protector of individual liberties, and the Left’s biggest nightmare. He will beat Joe Biden and usher in a Great American Comeback in which parents are empowered, our streets are safe, and our economy is booming once again.”
“I’ve always been a fan of Gov. DeSantis,” Bell said. “I like what he has done leading the state of Florida,” but added “I’m going to support whoever the Republican nominee is for president.”
“I believe that we need the conservative voice in Washington now more than ever, but I think Governor DeSantis has a different approach,” said Bell.
“I’ve watched him go from barely winning an election in the state of Florida to being the envy of the country on what he was able to do,” Bell said. “Not just in the four years navigating through a pandemic, not just because economic growth, but he was able to go into places that Republicans have not been able to win before or haven’t won in a long time and turned those areas red. You’re talking about a guy that went into places like Dade County and won.”
He added, DeSantis is “a guy that went into the middle of a dispute with Disney and went into areas and was able to pull ahead and win.”
“He’s got a great conservative record when it comes to, you know, conservative principle dealing with pro-life stances and welfare of children,” Bell said, while pointing out the educational freedoms Florida has been able to achieve.
“Florida has now become an envy and, frankly, has a lot of model legislation that is now moving across the country that originated (in Florida),” Bell said. “AI find that very fascinating being in the world of state government. I think we need someone that not only has federal experience, but also has state government experience.”
The majority leader, who was first elected to the General Assembly in 2012, also said “it’s nice to have a veteran” as a candidate.
“And so, you put that together with his family style approach on how he’s campaigning and the message,” Bell said. “He’s not demonizing people – he’s trying to grow our party and grow our base and that’s what attracts me to him.”