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By Peter Vankevich
Paul Tine has been a good friend of Ocracoke during his four-year tenure in the NC General Assembly.
In a recent interview on the island, he noted that he is proud of many accomplishments as a House member, rattling off a number of accomplishments, such as the Washington County community college bill, securing funding for oyster restoration and an IT broadband plan for eastern North Carolina.
But Ocracokers will particularly remember him when, as co-chair of the House Transportation Appropriations Committee, he kept the Hatteras/Ocracoke ferry route from being tolled and found permanent funding for boat replacements and maintenance.
As an indication of the island’s support, in his election in 2014 he carried Ocracoke with 88 percent of the vote.
First elected in 2012 by defeating Mattie Lawson, Tine, 44, who lives in Kitty Hawk, ran as a Democrat.
“I wasn’t supposed to win,” he said about the predominantly Republican district. “I ended up winning the 488 votes, the smallest amount that year in all of the General Assembly races.”
In 2014 he won in a rematch with Lawson, this time garnering a more comfortable 54 percent of the approximately 31,000 votes cast.
Then, in January 2015, he surprised many by announcing that he was changing his political status from Democrat to unaffiliated.
“Our region’s economy continues to lag behind the rest of the state and I cannot allow party affiliation to stand in the way of getting work done,” he had said in a press release.
Looking back, he acknowledged he took a lot of heat when he left his elected party, but has no regrets.
“I found I was fighting my own party,” he said. “I didn’t want to set the bridges on fire but I could be more effective as an unaffiliated.”
With his departure from the legislature’s minority party, he was allowed to caucus with the Republicans which permitted him to get more accomplished for the region.
“I am not a Republican and not a Democrat,” he said about his switch. “I love being able to be my own person and do the work that government is supposed to do.”
Throughout his tenure in the General Assembly, unlike many politicians who may vote their party line and have little or no interaction with the opposition, Tine stressed the importance of working together and being able to compromise.
He particularly noted the great working relationship he had with John Torbett (R-Gaston), Chairman of the house transportation committee.
In June, the two successfully negotiated an end to the ferry toll on Hatteras push and got more money for Ferry Division projects. From this negotiation, the Legislature approved an annual $4 million for ferry boat replacement (the source of the toll push) and $6 million this year for maintenance.
But that budget-negotiating session was a killer.
“Politics is not beanbag,” Tine noted, chuckling. “Rather, it’s a full-contact sport.”
In his visits to Ocracoke, Tine always urged islanders to be respectful when communicating with the members of the legislature.
This past January, members of the House Select Committee on Strategic Transportation Planning and Long Term Funding Solutions, also chaired by Torbett, convened in a special meeting on the mainland at The Outpost near Engelhard.
After lunch, they visited the ferry dock in Swan Quarter where more than 20 islanders, who had traveled on the Swan Quarter ferry that morning, had gathered to speak on the importance of the ferries to Ocracoke.
Hearing islanders’ concerns helped the members who were not familiar with the region’s special transportation needs was key.
“The Swan Quarter meeting was very positive because the Ocracoke people that visited were so nice and the members came to understand their concerns,” He said.
A major reason that he decided not to run for re-election was the amount of time he was away from his family, wife Whitney and two sons, ages 10 and 15.
“It is important that I take the time while my children are still young to be a father and husband,” he said.
Tine plans to return to his insurance business and to work on a project that will explain how the NC General Assembly actually works.