Christensen

Christensen: Midnight in the legislature

Staff WriterJanuary 8, 2012 

The political optics were terrible.

Last week, the Republican legislature convened a post-midnight special session for the sole purpose of gut-punching one of their foes - the N.C. Association of Educators.

It was possibly the strangest political gambit since Wisconsin Democratic lawmakers fled to Illinois to prevent the Republican majority from passing anti-union legislation.

I've watched every North Carolina legislature since 1977 and have seen some powerful political mandarins work their will, including Democrats Jimmy Green, Liston Ramsey, Jim Black and Marc Basnight.

But I've never seen anything quite like last week's hijinks, in which legislators voted to end the dues checkoff, making it harder for the NCAE to collect dues from members.

To understand the shenanigans in Raleigh you have to look at the broader picture.

The Republican legislature is seeking to reshape North Carolina's politics for the rest of the decade - and perhaps beyond. North Carolina is one of the few Southern states that is not a Republican stronghold. This has been a 50/50 state, and the Republicans see this as their chance to turn the Democrats into a permanent minority.

The legislature hopes to weaken if not destroy the NCAE, the teachers lobby, which - along with its parent organization - poured nearly $2 million into North Carolina races mainly to help elect Democrats in 2008. (The NCAE is not a union because it can't engage in collective bargaining or go on strike and because it includes management in its membership.)

So determined is the GOP to bust the NCAE, that last year, during the worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression, the lawmakers found money to offer liability insurance for teachers for the first time. This was an effort to undercut a service that the NCAE offers.

At the same time, the legislature has been making other moves to solidify its power and weaken the clout of the Democrats. The legislature went after another major source of Democratic money - the trial lawyers - passing legislation curbing the awards in medical malpractice cases and also placing new restraints on workers' compensation cases.

GOP leaders have also been quietly putting out the word on Jones Street to corporations, trade associations and other interest groups that if they want to get any legislation moved, they need to hire Republican lobbyists - not Democrats. And of course, the GOP lobbyists can be expected to help raise money for the lawmakers at election time.

Besides seeking to cut off Democratic sources of money, the GOP legislature has been working to hold down voting in heavily Democratic areas, i.e. black neighborhoods. That is a factor in the legislature's passage of a voter ID bill - vetoed by Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue - and probably also a factor in a push to reduce the length of the early-voting period.

Black lawmakers have cried racism. But this is about Chicago-style politics, not race. If the Republican lawmakers thought that suppressing the vote of NASCAR moms would help cement their power, they'd try that. After all, they had no reservations about going after the school marms - or at least those who dare sass them.

rchristensen@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4532

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