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State House majority leader to resign

RALEIGH (AP) — The House majority leader for the past two years announced Monday he’s leaving the North Carolina General Assembly to take a job with the office of State Treasurer Janet Cowell.

Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, said he’ll resign his seat at midday Tuesday, the day before lawmakers return to Raleigh for a one-day housekeeping session. On Wednesday, he’ll begin his job as senior policy adviser for Cowell, a Democrat, and serve as her liaison to the Republican-led legislature.

Starnes, who served one term in the 1980s, then continuously since 1997, won his 11th term in November unopposed. He also previously served as a chairman of the House Finance Committee.

“I probably accomplished as much as I hoped to be able to accomplish and so at some point in time you have to realize it’s time to move on and find new challenges and new opportunities, and I look at this as a challenge and an opportunity,” Starnes said in an interview.

He said discussions with Cowell’s office about the job increased around the time of the election, so he decided not to seek a second term as majority leader in late November. Starnes said his hiring was finalized about a week ago.

Starnes, a real estate investor, is succeeding fellow GOP ex-Rep. Bill McGee as legislative liaison and will make $65,000 annually, Cowell spokesman Schorr Johnson said. The treasurer oversees the state’s massive pension system — valued at $88 billion last September — and the health insurance plan for teachers and state employees. Cowell also manages the state’s debt.

Starnes “brings a unique knowledge of the people of this state and the opportunities and challenges we face,” Cowell, a former state senator, said in a prepared statement. “I look forward to working with him.”

Considered a leader of social conservatives in the House and one of the more popular members among colleagues, Starnes said he was proud of legislation he helped pass that toughened drunken-driving laws and created crimes for causing a fetus to die or injuring it inside the womb.

Starnes, 58, arrived at the legislature in 1987 when there were only 36 Republicans in the House. Now the total is more than double the amount. “Being in the majority was nothing more than just a dream,” he said.

Caldwell County Republican leaders will nominate someone to serve out Starnes’ upcoming two-year term. Gov. Pat McCrory is obligated by law to appoint that person.

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