Here’s a challenge for you. Try to explain what is happening in North Carolina these days to someone who doesn’t follow politics or government and limit yourself to a minute or even two.
You can’t do it. The damage being inflicted on the state by this radical and reactionary General Assembly is too vast and is happening too quickly to even catalogue, much less explain.
Lawmakers, who have only been in session a little over two months, have already refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, denying health care to 500,000 low-income adults even though the federal government would pick up the full cost of the expansion for three years and 90 percent of the cost after that.
The purely ideological decision on Medicaid is at least still in the news occasionally as some states with Republican governors like New Jersey and Arizona have managed to put their partisanship aside and do what is best for the people they represent.
The majority in control of our General Assembly has also voted to slash unemployment benefits for laid off workers and deny emergency federal benefits for 170,000 people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
The unemployment bill passed the first few weeks of the session but is rarely mentioned any more on Jones Street. Governor Pat McCrory sheepishly signed the attack on workers and the Medicaid expansion refusal in private ceremonies away from reporters who might ask pesky questions.
He also signed legislation behind closed doors to reduce the state Earned Income Tax Credit that helps low-wage workers. The bill also allows the EITC to expire at the end of the year.
That seems like old news now too with all the talk in Raleigh about “tax reform,” the current euphemism for the Robin Hood in reverse brand of class warfare now being pursued by Senate leaders and the right-wing think tanks bankrolled by the State Budget Director.
Lawmakers have quickly moved from the war on the poor to the war on environment as the Senate passed legislation to speed up permitting for dangerous fracking operations and the House is considering repealing the state’s modest renewable energy standard that some environmentalists believe is far too weak.
All bets are off on public education too. There are bills to divert public school money to home schoolers and turn teachers into glorified temps in the classroom. Senate leaders are trying to remove what’s left of accountability for charter schools by setting up a parallel and likely unconstitutional governance system to oversee them. A sweeping voucher scheme is coming soon.
Exhausted yet? There’s more. Predatory payday lending has surfaced again backed by faux research by the think tanks on Right Wing Avenue. And the consumer finance industry is back pushing for more exorbitant interest rates to charge people when they most vulnerable.
The state’s urban areas are on the tea party target list too. Legislative leaders are changing local election systems, redrawing local school board districts, reneging on signed contracts, and taking over water supplies and airports from cities.
Virtually every day, there’s another bill in committee that shoves North Carolina backwards and replaces the outrage of the day before in the headlines, from forcing married couples to wait two years for a divorce to repealing the Racial Justice Act to allowing loaded handguns in bars and restaurants.
That’s nowhere near a complete list and doesn’t take into account the offensive choices being made by Governor McCrory, who House and Senate leaders continue to treat as their junior partner in their tea party crusade.
McCrory has abolished the Office of Latino Affairs and is filling up the State Board of Education with privatization advocates. His latest appointment not only supporters vouchers but developed an anti-gay reputation while serving on his local school board.
There is simply no way to keep up with the devastation much less explain it all. And that’s what legislative leaders are counting on, not just that you will forget, but that you won’t even be able to keep up with the frenzied rush to pass as much of the tea party agenda as possible before people say enough.
And they are hedging their bets just in case. They know people in North Carolina did not vote for this radical agenda in an election with the results predetermined by carefully gerrymandered districts.
That’s where all the voter suppression legislation comes in. It’s their insurance policy, trying to make it harder for people who disagree with them to vote with restrictive voter ID laws, shorter early voting periods, and no more same day registration or Sunday voting
Those loud rumbling sounds you hear are North Carolina’s progressive traditions and institutions quickly crumbling or more correctly, being leveled day by day by day by this wrecking ball of a General Assembly.
If you have any inclination to speak up to stop it, now is the time. It won’t be long before you will not recognize the state you are living in.
Chris Fitzsimon is the Executive Director at NC Policy Watch.