- Associated Press - Thursday, November 5, 2015

MATTHEWS, N.C. (AP) - A leading Republican proponent of overhauling North Carolina’s tax system and opening the state to fracking announced Thursday he won’t seek re-election next year.

Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, said he’s largely completed all that he set out to do in the legislature. Rucho, 66, plans to serve out the remainder of his two-year term, and said he looks forward to spending more time with his wife, Theresa. He initially joined the Senate in 1997.

“I’m confident the state is better off now than when we started, and that a pathway to greater opportunity and prosperity for all North Carolinians is in place,” Rucho said in a statement. “I hope future legislative leaders show the political will to do the right thing and the discipline to stay the course.”

Rucho has been co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee since the GOP took over the chamber in 2011. The retired Matthews dentist has been the leading voice in the General Assembly for moving to a tax system based on consumption. Individual and corporate tax rates have fallen under GOP rule, while the scope of the sales tax has expanded.

Rucho “has been a lion for the cause of fiscal discipline and tax relief in the state Senate,” said Donald Bryson, director of the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity.

Rucho helped shepherd legislation to promote North Carolina natural gas exploration both inland and offshore, although no drilling permits for fracking have yet been issued in part due to pending litigation. Unemployment insurance changes he pushed through in 2011 also accelerated the repayment of $2.5 billion owed the federal government but lowered maximum weekly benefit payouts.

Rucho’s work has helped keep like-minded lawmakers in office. As Senate Redistricting Committee chairman, he helped draw boundaries for legislative and congressional seats that resulted in Republicans expanding their recent dominance in state politics. The maps are still being challenged in court but have been used in the 2012 and 2014 elections.

Critics, mostly Democrats and their allies, have said legislation Rucho backed resulted in fewer state revenues for public education, hurt the unemployed and created racial gerrymandering. Rucho disagrees.

Rucho, a Massachusetts native, seems to have relished stirring the pot within the Senate and his own party.

In early 2011, Rucho gave a speech on the Senate floor blasting Democrats who led state government almost interrupted for generations, saying Republicans were now helping the state “recover from 100 years of disaster.”

When Republican Gov. Pat McCrory panned Rucho’s tax overhaul ideas in May 2013, Rucho said “if Pat had real business experience, he would not make such a poor policy decision.” Rucho stepped down as finance committee co-chairman a couple of weeks later in protest when the Senate also steered away from Rucho’s plan. Rucho later returned to the post.

“From my first day in the legislature, I’ve known that Bob Rucho was committed to real and lasting change in Raleigh,” Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a statement.

Rucho didn’t run for re-election in 2004 because redistricting put him in the same district with then-Sen. Robert Pittenger, who is now in Congress. Rucho returned in 2008 when Pittenger resigned to run for lieutenant governor.

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