an obstructionist - and a substantial obstruction at that.He's
sometimes aloof , sometimes vague , sometimes mirthful , sometimes evasive.
way a good bit lately.
has demonstrated repeatedly this year that when the numbers are close in Raleigh , power is the ability to say no - no to what the governor wants , or no to what the speaker of the House wants.
With seven fellow Tobycrats - just one of the nicknames they've been given - he
helped block a 1 cent sales-tax increase wanted by Gov.
...Over the past several weeks , Fitch led a group of three black Democrats who joined with
Republicans in the closely divided House to block passage of a House redistricting plan until Democrats created at least as many majority-black districts - 14 - as there are now.Though Democratic leaders originally proposed 12 majority-black districts , the plan that passed the House Thursday has 15.
At Fitch's insistence , House leaders also made changes to create a new district in Wilkes , Alexander , Caldwell and Watauga counties for Republican Rep.
You tell me whether that's dragging on or that's progress , Fitch
said last week as House mapmakers drew up the final plan.I tend to view it as progress..
acknowledged increased integration in housing , particularly in districts such as Rep.
, who oversaw redistricting in the House under former Speaker Dan Blue in 1991 , remained adamant.
It gets harder each time.But it's still possible , he
said that fears of handing the House to Republicans are overblown.I am a Democrat.I have no intentions of changing my party affiliation.I have no intention of participating in a plan that will take the current Democratic majority and turn that into a Republican majority , he
pointed out that his
own district in Wilson , Edgecombe and Nash counties was drawn by a judge to let black voters elect the candidate of their choice.
And later , in a speech on the House floor , he
tactics.I look at my colleagues and I see some who look like me who would not have been here had there been no majority-minority districts , he
said.You know , we really didn't have to wrestle with this issue....If you draw people out , then people fight to get in..He
fundamental point that Democrats should not take black voters for granted.I have no permanent friend in politics.I have no permanent enemy in politics , he
Thomas Wright , D-New Hanover , a former chairman of the black caucus , worked on Black's behalf to negotiate with Fitch
is a history buff , particularly when it comes to his
family , Michaux said.His
dad was a tough negotiator , and his
dad was one of our stalwarts in the movement.Toby
was brought up in that atmosphere.Nobody made a political move in Wilson County without talking to Daddy Fitch..
There's also a tough-minded , almost athletic , competitiveness to Fitch's approach.Fitch notes that his
Uncle George was a sparring partner with Joe Louis.Toby Fitch
coached football from 1970 to 1977 as a defensive coordinator first at N.C. Central University
and later at Delaware State.He
kept coaching football for at least two years even after he
finished law school at Delaware State and passed the Bar exam.
A moving target
Fitch's critics complain that it's difficult to negotiate with him : He
stays out of reach or changes his
demands , they say.With Toby
, you get in the red zone , and the goal posts start moving back , a Democratic House member said.
contends that he
is not a moving target.I don't say one thing and do another.And I don't back down from what I say.If that's being obstinate , then everybody in here at times is obstinate , he
said , leaning back in a leather chair in an empty House chamber.
At one juncture in the negotiations when the NAACP joined Fitch's call for at least 14 majority-black districts , Fitch
emphasized that the dispute was still about minority districts - for the moment.
Nothing's changed.I don't wiffle-waffle , he
said.That's always been the issue.It might change tomorrow , but that's the issue today..
Such enigmatic statements and , at times , Fitch's reluctance to speak at all lead some to question his
Some contend that Fitch
, who helped organize coalitions with Republicans in 1999 and again this year to try to keep Black from being speaker , is out to embarrass Black as the leader of the raucous House.
Still others contend that Fitch
is out to leverage an appointment to a judgeship from Easley.
downplays the talk , saying he
has turned down judgeships before.I've been the same guy all the while , he
said.I don't know if they want to give me a judgeship or not.I guess some people wish they'd hurry up and offer one - or more particularly , that I'd hurry up and accept it..
insists that his
disputes over redistricting are not about Black but about black voters.
has looked after his
allies in the redistricting debate.After Republicans uniformly opposed the Democratic plan , Fitch
insisted that House leaders draw a new district for Starnes , rather than force him into the same district with Rep.
Others contend that Fitch
has harmed the U.S. Senate prospects of his
longtime ally Blue by prolonging the legislative session.Blue is trying to raise money and campaign for the Democratic Senate primary in May , but the session keeps him in Raleigh much of the time.Fitch
discounts such contentions.Dan Blue and I have been friends for more than 30 years.Dan Blue knows that I believe what I believe in.And I still believe what I did was right , he
With approval of state Senate and congressional districts still looming on the House's agenda , legislative observers are waiting to see whether Fitch
and the Tobycrats will again dispute the drawing of those districts.
Though the House and Senate
traditionally don't interfere with each other's district plans , Fitch
alarmed onlookers with a recent statement that the tradition is a gentlemen's agreement between legislators who are now dead.He
again grew enigmatic when he
was asked last week if he
will intervene in the debate over Senate and congressional districts.
I'm not going there....I don't know where I'll be next week , he
said.I'm tired.A mule gets tired..