House Speaker Thom Tillis has a way of shooting from the hip.
It's a trait that endears him to some and occasionally enrages others. It also causes him to spend a lot of time clarifying words that he previously spoke.
The Mecklenburg County Republican's most recent foray into a political minefield occurred while answering questions at a town hall meeting at Mars Hill College.
In answer to a question about drug testing, Tillis responded: “In 2013, I don't know whether we'll go as far as Florida, but if you're receiving government assistance and every once in a while we want to do a random drug test, done on a fair basis, then I think we should do it.”
Responding to another questioner who told Tillis that he believed state employees should be drug tested, the House speaker said, "I agree with that."
Florida, by the way, passed laws back in the summer to randomly test welfare recipients and state employees. Welfare recipients can be cut off if they don't pass the test, and their children can then only receive benefits through another relative. They also have to pay for the tests themselves and are only reimbursed if they pass.
In answer to the initial question at his town hall meeting, Tillis was referring to welfare recipients.
That's not what he said, though. His words were that those receiving “government assistance” should be subjected to random drug testing.
So, to be “done on a fair basis,” isn't it appropriate to test all of those on government assistance?
If so, then the drug testing also could apply to:
— The CEOS and other executives at companies that receive cash, tax breaks and other government incentives for building plants here. Hey, what's a little trip to the restroom with plastic cup when you've just wrapped up $300 million in savings for your firm?
— The array of private health care providers who depend on federal and state Medicaid dollars to stay financially afloat. If the patients are going to be tested, why not the doctors and nurses who are prodding and jabbing them?
— Any public university football or basketball coaches who receive six- and seven-figure buyouts. While we're at it, let's also test any lawyers involved in negotiating those buyouts. In fact, the lawyers may need multiple tests to ensure that negotiations weren't conducted in a drug-induced haze.
As for state employees, it's important to remember that teachers, prison guards and road workers aren't the only workers who could fall under a testing regime. The clear thinking and sharp decision-making required of some state employees is far more important than that of these folks.
So, when state legislators — who are state employees and receive state salary — return to Raleigh next year, perhaps they could be greeted with a bit of technical wizardry to ensure no impairment.
A breathlyzer device attached to the voting machines at their desks, requiring that they breathe into it before each vote, ought to accomplish the feat.