RALEIGH, N.C. — Former two-term Speaker Joe Hackney announced Thursday he wouldn't seek re-election to his House seat this year after more than 30 years in the Legislature.
Hackney, D-Orange, the current House minority leader, released a statement saying he was looking forward to a more predictable schedule with his family, law practice and the Chatham County farm that he and his brother operate. Now in his 16th term, Hackney will remain in the House through the end of the year.
"I will serve out the remainder of my term with enthusiasm," Hackney wrote. "As minority leader, I will work actively this year for a Democratic majority and a new Democratic Speaker for the NC House in 2013."
Hackney, 66, didn't mention in his statement that the Republican re-drawing of election districts last year placed him in the same district with Democratic Rep. Verla Insko of Orange County, meaning they would have had to run against each other in a primary. Candidate filing begins Feb. 13.
Hackney said in a phone interview the new maps had nothing to do with his decision, saying simply: "I had a feeling that it was a good time to step down."
Hackney was elected speaker in 2007, succeeding disgraced Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg. Hackney was widely credited with restoring confidence in the speaker's post after the political corruption case against Black, who went to federal prison. Hackney has helped win passage of ethics and campaign finance-reform laws and changed House operations to promote open government.
"I've always admired his honesty, his drive and his leadership," said Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, who entered the Legislature together in 1981 as House members. "His leadership will be sorely missed in North Carolina."
Hackney lost the speaker's job when Republicans gained a majority after the 2010 elections, but Democrats elected him minority leader — a sign that they didn't blame him for losing the party's control of the chamber. In 2011, Hackney often had to take the role on the House floor of the ardent opposition to Republican-penned policies such as education and efforts to require photo identification to vote.
"Speaker Hackney is a true public servant, and has led a distinguished career in the Legislature," current Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said in a statement. "While we disagree on many policy issues, his respect for the traditions and integrity of the House has had a significant impact on my first year as speaker."
Hackney, a past president of the National Conference of State Legislatures, served previously in the House as majority leader and speaker pro tempore.
In a statement, Gov. Beverly Perdue praised Hackney for fighting "relentlessly to keep our government more transparent and to protect our environment for future generations. And we stood together in our recent battles to try and protect our teachers and the fairness of our elections. Our state today is a better place, and we should thank him."
Hackney has been known for backing environmental restrictions, supporting a two-year moratorium on executions and expanding public financing of elections. While considered a part of the state Democratic Party's liberal wing, Hackney tried to govern more to the middle as speaker to build consensus and get bills passed that aligned with the broader Democratic caucus agenda.