RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A key budget-writer in the North Carolina state Senate said Thursday he’s leaving the General Assembly next month to become a top executive at a large hospital system.
Sen. Pete Brunstetter, R-Forsyth, said he’ll resign effective Dec. 15 because he’s taking a job as executive vice president and chief legal counsel for Winston-Salem-based Novant Health.
Currently a corporate lawyer for one of the state’s most prestigious law firms, Brunstetter said it was too difficult to remain in the Senate — with all of its health care-related issues — while working for Novant. The not-for-profit company operates more than a dozen hospitals in three states, employs 24,000 people and has more than 1,100 medical group doctors.
“The two jobs are really just not compatible,” Brunstetter said in an interview, adding the Novant position “was too good a move to pass up.” Brunstetter was on the first Novant Health board in 1997 and served on it for 10 years.
Brunstetter, 57, joined the Senate in 2006 after previously serving on the Forsyth County commission. He was named one of three co-chairmen of the Senate Appropriations Committee in 2011, when Republicans gained control of the General Assembly for the first time in 140 years.
The departure will mean lost expertise on forming the $20 billion-plus annual state budget, particularly on Medicaid, whose shortfalls have vexed leaders of both parties in recent years.
During the 2011-12 session, Brunstetter also led the Senate’s chief judiciary committee, doing the heavy work on major pieces of legislation. The panel assembled medical malpractice reform legislation and regulatory reform legislation. Brunstetter also was involved in fashioning a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, which ultimately passed the General Assembly and was approved by voters.
In a release, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, called Brunstetter a close friend, adviser and “an outstanding public servant whose leadership and budgetary expertise were instrumental to closing the $2.5 billion deficit Republicans inherited and ensuring North Carolina’s long-term fiscal health.”
Brunstetter said he’s proud of his budget work as well as tort and regulatory reforms, but if he had any regrets it would be the inability in his tenure to “really get the Medicaid problem under control.”
The departure is surprising since it came less than two months after Brunstetter announced he wouldn’t seek to run for the U.S. Senate after Berger asked him to consider a bid. At the time he said in a statement he wanted to “remain focused on the many critical issues facing the state of North Carolina as I continue my work in the N.C. Senate.” Brunstetter said Thursday the opportunity with Novant came up fairly recently and he told Berger of his decision earlier this week.
Local Republicans will choose someone to serve out Brunstetter’s two-year term through the end of 2014. Brunstetter’s 31st Senate District includes Yadkin County and part of Forsyth County. Senate Republicans also will have to decide on his replacement as one of the chief leaders on the appropriations committee before the session reconvenes in May.
Brunstetter said he doesn’t expect to become a registered General Assembly lobbyist with Novant because working regularly with legislators isn’t a key component of his new job description. Ex-legislators can’t register for at least six months.