Matthews, N.C. – State Sen. Bob Rucho – the Matthews dentist, first elected in 1996, who spent nearly two decades building a Republican majority and fighting for a more conservative and fiscally-responsible state government – announced Thursday he will retire and not seek re-election in 2016.
Rucho, 67, a hard-charging New England native who never lost his northern accent, is well-known for his candor and penchant for speaking his mind. Early in the 2011 session, he described the missed opportunities and failed leadership of North Carolina’s Democrats in a floor speech – known as the “100 Years of Disaster” – that went viral nationally on the internet.
Rucho proudly strove for tax fairness and equitable treatment for small businesses, working families and the little guy by fighting to eliminate tax loopholes and carve outs and standing up to special interests. During the 2013 debate on tax reform, Rucho famously turned to a packed Senate Finance Committee room and, according to WRAL news video, said: “Members of the audience, would you just raise your hands if you’re lobbyists,” watching nearly every hand in a room packed beyond capacity go up. “Members of the committee, I just want you to remember, those are the folks that are in the process of trying to be sure that this tax system stays complicated and loopholes are maintained.”
Rucho was the consistent, tireless and relentless force behind tax cuts and true conservative reforms that helped revive North Carolina’s economy and earned national acclaim. An article in Forbes magazine labeled him a “Tax Reform Hero” and argued, “Bold tax reform will become a reality only when individuals like Rucho have majorities in legislatures. Right now, just seeing a single one is an extraordinary event.”
Rucho – who bemoaned the reluctant endorsement The Charlotte Observer gave him in 2012 after almost a quarter century in various Mecklenburg County elective offices – is loathed by the State’s notoriouslyfar-left editorial pages. Much to their outrage, he led the movement to require North Carolinians to show photo identification when they vote, fulfilling one of the legislature’s most important promises – protecting the integrity of elections. Rucho’s championing of a comprehensive energy policy that helped pave the way for exploration of clean natural gas both on and off shore also raised their ire.
After being double-bunked with fellow Republican Senator Robert Pittenger in the Democrat’s 2004 redistricting and retiring, Rucho returned to the Senate in 2007 and, alongside Rep. David Lewis, became the primary architect of the fair, legal and competitive legislative and congressional districts that were pre-cleared by President Obama’s Justice Department and ruled constitutional by the state Supreme Court. The unemployment insurance reforms he pushed through with Rep. Julia Howard paid off a $2.8 billion debt to the federal government ahead of schedule and, according to the Wall Street Journal, North Carolina “has been rewarded with more jobs and a falling jobless rate.”
Citing a litany of other accomplishments – hospital billing transparency, regulatory reform, balanced budgets that turned deficits into surplus, reforms to public schools, and data-driven investments in roads and infrastructure – Rucho said he felt satisfied that the legislature achieved its goals and made the tough decisions to pull North Carolina out of economic hardship and put the state on a better path. Those policies helped cut the state’s unemployment rate in half since Republicans took control of the legislature in 2011. North Carolina’s tax reforms have reduced rates from the highest in the region to the most competitive in the region, and boosted the state from 44th to 13th in the nonpartisan Tax Foundation’s national business tax climate rankings. Just last month, North Carolina rose to No. 2 on Forbes’ list of best states for business.
“My goal was to help win a conservative legislative majority and make bold changes to secure a better future for North Carolina families,” Rucho said. “I’m confident the state is better off now than when we started, and that a pathway to greater opportunity and prosperity for all North Carolinians is in place. I hope future legislative leaders show the political will to do the right thing and the discipline to stay the course.”
Rucho continued: “I’m incredibly grateful to the people of Mecklenburg County for the privilege to serve them over 16 years, to my wife, Theresa, and our boys for such unwavering support, and to so many others who supported our cause. I ran for office because I believed we could make a difference. I know that we have.”
Senate Leader Phil Berger praised Rucho’s work ethic, passion, persistence, and commitment to conservative principles:
“From my first day in the legislature, I’ve known that Bob Rucho was committed to real and lasting change in Raleigh,” said Berger, who dined with Rucho his first night at the General Assembly (years later the question of which lawmaker picked up the tab remains a point of dispute) and roomed with him for two sessions. “Rarely do you see someone work so hard, and throw themselves so tenaciously into a project or policy they’ve been asked to tackle. It was Bob’s vision and conservative principles, especially regarding tax reform, that gave direction and intellectual heft to Republican legislators’ historic improvements for the people of North Carolina. He is my friend and I don’t want him to go, but I know he deserves a rest and I wish him and Theresa a wonderful retirement.”
Note: a high resolution headshot of Sen. Rucho is available here.