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John Blust delivered his own political epitaph in emotional remarks to his state House of Representatives colleagues last Tuesday.
“I think I stood strong a lot of times when it was difficult,” the Greensboro Republican said in announcing he won’t run for re-election this year.
Blust’s strongest stand was when he opposed Sen. Trudy Wade’s bill to reshape Greensboro’s City Council in 2015. “You all know it is wrong for a city of 285,000 to have a form of government put in place by one person,” he said during one debate.
Yet the pressure from Republican leaders to pass the measure was so great that, after it initially failed — thanks largely to Blust’s powerful denunciation — Speaker Tim Moore called a GOP caucus, twisted arms and then allowed a second vote. Enough frightened Republicans changed their positions to push the bill over the top. But Blust refused to yield.
Blust’s defense of Greensboro against a hostile legislative action earned plenty of goodwill and easy re-election to his ninth House term in 2016. This year, his newly redrawn district looked less favorable to him. In his remarks Tuesday, he recalled the words of Confederate Gen. George Pickett after his failed charge at Gettysburg: “I have no division.”
“It’s like I have no district,” Blust said.
He does have a legacy. It is to speak truth to those in power, whether it was Democrats when they held the House majority or Republicans now.
“We ought to be a body of rules, not men,” he said Tuesday, identifying an “incredible problem. A few people hold all the cards.”
Those few decide which bills come up for votes and which ones are shoved aside.
“There’s something wrong with that constitutionally,” Blust said. And, judging by public opinion (a High Point University poll released Tuesday gives the General Assembly a 31 percent approval rating), “the people know something’s wrong.”
Blust sympathized Tuesday with Democrats who faced a dilemma created by Republicans: whether to vote for a bill funding class-size reductions that also contained unrelated provisions they opposed.
“Some things I’ve had to vote for and swallow hard,” he said. So did most Democrats Tuesday.
Blust’s principles have kept him out of leadership posts, despite his seniority. He doesn’t regret that but wishes he could have effected more change.
Still, “I’ve tried to do things the right way since I’ve been here.”
Blust is a conservative Republican who expresses strong opinions. When he disagrees with GOP colleagues, it’s less about policy than about following proper procedures. He has a highly refined sense of fair play, which can make him an odd fit in the political world.
But that’s not the only reason he isn’t running for re-election.
“It has gotten harder every session to make it financially,” he said, which certainly is true. The legislative salary of $13,951 hasn’t gone up in many years. The legislature lately is meeting nearly year-around. A lawyer and accountant, and the father of a young daughter, Blust probably can spend his time more productively.
He did run for Congress in 2016, finishing second in the 13th District GOP primary behind Ted Budd of Davie County. He split the Guilford County vote with Commissioner Hank Henning; if Henning had not run, Blust might hold that seat now.
It didn’t happen, so the end of this year might see Blust’s retirement from politics 22 years after he first won a state Senate seat. He lost it to Kay Hagan two years later, but was elected to the House in 2000 and ever since.
While we have often disagreed with his votes and statements — he was a staunch supporter of the anti-LGBT House Bill 2, which cost Greensboro millions of dollars in lost events in 2016 and 2017 — we’ve never doubted his sincerity.
If there were more legislators of his kind, our government would come closer to meeting its democratic ideals.