Despite the shock of Donald Trump winning the presidency, there are a number of hopeful signs in the election results for progressives, many of which have been pointed out by folks looking for something positive to hold on to in the overall gloomy outcome.
Those include the fact that more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump, Democrats gained seats in the U.S. House and Senate, and four states passed ballot measures to increase the minimum wage including Arizona, a state Donald Trump won.
In North Carolina, there’s more to challenge the notion that this election was a resounding win for the forces on the Right, most notably that Republican Governor Pat McCrory currently trails Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper by roughly 5,000 votes before provisional ballots are reviewed and a likely recount is held.
Democrats also held on to the Attorney General’s office as former state Senator Josh Stein defeated Republican Senator Buck Newton in a high profile race and Democrats also won control of the N.C. Supreme Court as Superior Court Judge Mike Morgan handily defeated incumbent Justice Bob Edmunds.
That doesn’t mean this wasn’t a Republican year. It clearly was, as Trump won North Carolina, Republicans won a majority of Council of State seats for the first time and maintained their supermajorities in the state House and Senate.
But lost in much of the analysis is how Republicans won, how they campaigned in many parts of the state on two of the defining issues of the year, education and HB2.
Four years ago when Pat McCrory campaigned for governor, he claimed that schools in North Carolina were broken and he talked openly about school choice, the misleading code word for vouchers and sketchy for-profit virtual charters and other privatization schemes.
Conservative legislative candidates back then maligned “government monopoly schools” and the right-wing think tanks that supported them absurdly challenged the widespread outrage about low teacher pay and constantly claimed that money doesn’t make a difference in education and proclaimed that the state was spending enough on public schools already.
This year McCrory and many Republican legislators running for reelection boasted of their efforts to raise teacher pay and increase funding for public schools.
McCrory held media events touting recent teacher raises that he said increased average pay to $50,000 a year, which wasn’t true but he kept saying it, usually standing in front of a banner to make sure the cameras recorded the falsehood.
McCrory and the Republican legislators rarely mentioned the massive increase in funding for the wholly unaccountable school voucher program or their creation of shady virtual charters run by out of state for profit companies that have had problems in other states.
They neglected to tell voters that under Republican budgets there have been cuts in funding for teacher assistants, textbooks, classroom supplies, and school transportation, that they fought to end career status for teachers and abolished a nationally recognized teacher scholarship program.
They ran instead as champions of the public schools that their policies and budgets undermine and in a year dominated by races for president and U.S. Senate it was hard for their opponents to break through all the noise and point that out.
But it is a tacit admission that the folks currently in charge in Raleigh know their inadequate education budgets and agenda to dismantle public education are not popular with the voters.
They needed to mislead people to get elected, even in a Republican year.
And they did—and not just on education but on HB2 as well.
Conservative pundits have claimed that HB2 played a minor role in the election and some of the anti-LGBT law’s biggest supporters like Tami Fitzgerald of the misnamed N.C. Values Coalition claim the election settles HB2, that the people have spoken in support of the law.
But the opposite is true. McCrory’s unwavering support of HB2 cost him thousands of votes in Charlotte and Raleigh and other urban areas. Exit polls found that people overwhelmingly opposed the law.
Several Republican lawmakers who supported HB2 lost their seats as well and several others who barely survived, like Sen. Tamara Barringer and Rep. Chris Malone—both from Wake County—called for repeal of the law before the election.
A flyer touting Malone’s support for repeal was paid for by the Republican Party. Republicans know HB2 is costing the state thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, not to mention demonizing a group of their constituents.
And they know it is wildly unpopular with the people they are supposed to represent.
That’s why many of them distanced themselves from the discriminatory law that they enthusiastically supported last spring,
And it is why McCrory is almost certain to be a one-term governor when all the votes are counted.
Add it all up and it may still fall short of even a silver lining, but it is welcome news nonetheless that most North Carolinians don’t support much of the far-right’s anti-LGBT and anti-public school agenda and that conservative politicians know it.
That’s why so many of them tried so hard this year to hide their true intentions. The sad part is that in many cases in this wildly unpredictable election year the political sleight of hand appears to have worked.
Chris Fitzsimon is the Founder and Executive Director of NC Policy Watch.