By Ginger Livingston
Sunday, February 24, 2013
The start of the 2013-14 N.C. General Assembly finds Marian McLawhorn and Edith Warren at home for the first time in 14 years.
The former state representatives said they are watching the Republican legislative agenda with interest but are pursuing the hobbies and family activities they had postponed.
“I am past that need to constantly be out and about,” Warren said. “Being quiet with a book is just as good.”
Warren and McLawhorn each served seven terms in the General Assembly’s House of Representatives after winning their first elections in 1998.
Warren, 76, announced her retirement after redistricting moved her district’s boundaries from Martin and Pitt counties to Pitt and Wilson counties.
It is the first time since Warren started teaching 52 years ago that she has not been on a schedule.
“It’s a strange feeling that when you go to bed you don’t have to set the clock,” Warren said.
McLawhorn, 70, ran for an eighth term in 2012 but was defeated by Republican newcomer Brian Brown.
When election night came and she realized she lost, McLawhorn said she was disappointed “for about five seconds.” Then another realization took hold.
“I realized I had my life back,” she said. “The fact that I don’t have to be up there in Raleigh, trying to change things when I know I will be outvoted. I don’t need that anymore.”
She said she ran for re-election because she believed Pitt County needed an experienced legislator. She also was motivated by her supporters, the individuals who gave their time and money to the campaign.
McLawhorn and Warren, both Democrats, said they are dismayed by the legislation being pursued by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican-led legislature.
“I am disappointed at some things they are doing,” Warren said. She was surprised a bill was introduced giving the governor and legislative leaders the ability to remove people from boards and commissions before their term is completed.
“You have no continuity, no institutional knowledge and to me that can’t be a good thing,” Warren said.
McLawhorn said she cannot believe legislators are rejecting the Medicaid expansion that would add 600,000 uninsured North Carolinians to the insurance program. The federal government will fully fund the addition for three years and then the state will cover more of the cost in the coming years.
“Here in the eastern part of the state, where we know we need better health care opportunities and have worked so hard for that, it’s been so upsetting for me,” McLawhorn said. “I hope the (state) House of Representatives has second thoughts.”
Both women also were surprised by McCrory’s statements that the university system’s funding model should be changed to reward schools with the largest number of graduates getting jobs. During a radio interview last month, McCrory also offered views about the role of liberal arts education in the public university system.
“I don’t think he meant to say it quite that way,” McLawhorn said. “Surely he didn’t mean to say it quite that way. It’s easy to get caught up in the tone of a radio show.”
A liberal arts education gives people a chance to pursue knowledge beyond their chosen career and its skill set, leading to a more well-founded person, McLawhorn said.
“I can’t even describe (my reaction),” Warren said. “I was quite surprised.”
Business and industry want flexible employees who can adapt to ever-changing work environments, Warren said. “That’s what you get from a liberal arts education.”
Warren said her greatest concern is that many Republican legislators, because they did not grow up in North Carolina, and do not recognize how the University of North Carolina system enabled North Carolinians to advance economically.
“When I think about my own situation, I grew up on a tobacco farm north of Bethel. We lived on my granddaddy’s farm, but we were sharecropper farmers like everyone else,” Warren said. East Carolina University made it possible for her to pursue a degree in education while caring for a young family.
“I think we need to be committed to that original mission of making education accessible to all citizens of the state,” Warren said.
While they are out of the daily committee meetings and vote, the General Assembly still occupies some of their time.
Both women are sorting the items and paperwork they collected as legislators, deciding what will be thrown away, what will be kept and what eventually may be donated.
“I’m going to organize,” McLawhorn said. “I’ve been watching this stuff on HGTV (Home and Garden Television), and I think, ‘I can do that.’”
Warren said she is enjoying the flexibility of her new schedule. She has the time to do things like bake a cake for a friend who is coming for an afternoon visit. She can participate in events such as Read Across America — a series of events to motivate children and teenagers to read — without the worry of missing a committee meeting or a floor vote. She also is ready to work on her neglected gardens.
McLawhorn has started painting, an activity she has watched her husband pursue for years. She said it is addictive. She is looking forward to having more time to travel so she can visit her children and grandchildren out of state. She is looking forward to never missing another family vacation because the legislative session lasted all summer.
“I’m just extremely happy to be where I am right now in my life,” McLawhorn said. “People can’t believe it until they see me and see my smile.”
McLawhorn and Warren said they still are getting calls from former constituents seeking advice on issues. They also field the occasional question about their political futures.
“I don’t see (running for office) in the near future,” Warren said.
McLawhorn said while she does not plan to run again, she won’t completely rule out the possibility.
“You just never know. I just got out of it and enjoy what I’m doing now,” McLawhorn said. “My life is full at the moment. I’m the kind of person that if I get bored I’ll find something.”
Contact Ginger Livingston at email@example.com or 252-329-9570.