There Jimmy Broughton stood.
On July 8, 2008, after a eulogy delivered by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, Broughton was up next. It was the funeral of Republican U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms and Broughton's turn to speak. Standing before members of Congress, Vice President Dick Cheney, Democratic Gov. Mike Easley and countless politicos, Broughton, who lives in Winston-Salem and had been Helms’ chief of staff, started his eulogy with a light touch.
“Upon hearing the news of his death early on July 4, I had to chuckle – just a little – at the fact that the senator had likely ruined the vacation plans of some of those big city editors he often tangled with over the years,” he said.
Laughter turned to applause as Broughton finished the sentence.
Broughton knows his audience.
And they know him.
Now Broughton’s familiarity with the trenches of legislative work at the state and federal level has him heading back to Raleigh, this time to work as one of two deputy chiefs of staff for Gov. Pat McCrory. He will start Jan. 5 with a salary of $130,000.
“I will get to work with the federal delegation some, and I do think there’s an opportunity there. I always thought when I was with Helms, there were great opportunities sometimes missed with the state government and the federal delegation,” Broughton said last week. “And I’ll be helping and supporting as best I can his legislative team, working right there on the ground every day implementing his agenda.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, a Winston-Salem Republican, and state Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham County, spoke highly of Broughton.
“Senator Burr and the office know Jimmy well,” said Rachel Hicks, Burr’s press secretary. “We all look forward to working with him in his new capacity.”
Said Berger: “Jimmy is a dedicated, well-respected public servant with tremendous public policy expertise. He will be an asset to Gov. McCrory's administration, and I look forward to working with him in the coming year.”
McCrory's other deputy chief of staff, John Baldwin, will continue to work on appointments, military affairs, administration and operations. Broughton will work on federal and state government relations, policy and communications.
Both will report to Thomas Stith, the governor’s chief of staff.
“Jimmy’s experience and expertise in policy, communication and government affairs will add to an effective team,” Stith said in a news release.
Other Winston-Salem residents with executive office connections include Linda Combs, the state controller; Lyons Gray, the secretary of the Department of Revenue; and Dale Folwell, the assistant secretary of Employment Security.
Issues on the table
Broughton will join the governor’s staff as McCrory faces heat from reports by The Associated Press that McCrory accepted large stock payouts from the online mortgage broker Tree.com, which has been accused by federal regulators of deceiving customers.
And he will join the staff two months after McCrory filed a lawsuit against legislative leaders over the role that the legislature has taken in making appointments to commissions. The lawsuit alleges violations of the separation of powers, executive power and appointment provisions of the state Constitution. Former governors Jim Hunt, a Democrat, and Jim Martin, a Republican, joined McCrory in the lawsuit.
Broughton, a 1990 Wake Forest University graduate, had interned for Helms in the summer of 1988 and started working on the staff in 1991, he said last week, sitting in a 12th-floor conference room at the Winston-Salem office of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice LLP. He has worked there since 2003 on such state issues as education, health care, economic development and military affairs.
Lobbying has been his work since joining Womble Carlyle.
In 2008, for example, he made introductions to the North Carolina delegation in Washington on behalf of Erik Prince, who was the CEO of private-security company Blackwater. Later, he pushed for legislation that would eventually lift the cap on charter schools in North Carolina. And he lobbied for legislation that would make insurance companies cover ailments related to autism.
Lobbying does not define him, according to Broughton. Long before he started working at Womble Carlyle, he was making his mark in the Senate mail room for Helms.
“I started May 6, 1991 making $14,500, I believe, and I thought that was just great.
“Every congressional office has a mail room. It’s a bit different these days. Back then, and I sound 100, but back then, people wrote letters.
“That was really before email. … We received, as you might imagine, a very large volume of letters. … We opened the mail all day. … I started on a Monday morning one day and just remember thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, we’ll never get through this.’ I mean, it was just stacked up,” Broughton said.
But Broughton did get through it.
At Helms’ funeral, Broughton, who had been Helms' chief of staff for 12 years, spoke of Helms’ penchant for detail, his demand that letters from constituents be respected, and the time that Helms abruptly stopped an important staff meeting to get former Sen. Paul Simon, an Illinois Democrat, on the phone to tell him, of all things, to inflate his left rear tire – or he would not make it home to his wife.
Broughton finished the eulogy with this remark: “The Lord doesn’t require us to win. He just expects us to try.”
It was a quote from Helms’ father, Jesse Helms Sr., and it could be seen on a plaque that hung on Helms’ office wall.
Broughton will try once again – this time, it won’t be for a U.S. senator but for North Carolina’s governor.