A flawed vision from North Carolina's GOP leader

The senator from Eden outlines a legislative agenda that would take the state backward.

January 22, 2013 

Phil Berger, president pro-tem of the N.C. Senate and the Republican leader, is a soft-spoken, easy-to-smile, good-humored veteran of his party’s often futile wars with long-dominant Democrats. How Berger managed to maintain his gentle nature during all those years when Democrats rolled over the GOP with nary a “ ’scuse me” is a wonder.

Maybe he knew that one day, there would be payback. That day has arrived, and unfortunately Berger’s announced agenda for his chamber in this, his second session as the pro-tem, reflects a desire to engage in shortsighted partisanship.

The New Deal it ain’t

Were his victims to be only what few Democrats remain on Jones Street, that might be understandable. (Not admirable, but understandable.) But Berger is going after the poor, the middle class, teachers and working people.

For example: A top priority is to require photo IDs for all voters. Former Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed the last try and it stuck, but Republican Gov. Pat McCrory favors it. This is much ado about virtually nothing, given that instances of voter fraud are rare indeed. But Republicans believe those who’d be affected, older people and minority folks without driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs, for example, might be inclined to vote Democratic. Can’t have that.

Then there is Berger’s slap at teachers. Or rather, his next slap at teachers. Last time out, GOP legislators passed a bill to punish the state teachers’ association for flirting too seriously with Democrats by prohibiting teachers from having their association dues deducted from their paychecks. But there’s a serious legal challenge to that.

No problem. Berger now says he wants teacher tenure, not much of a perk given the paltry pay teachers receive, connected more to evaluations. In other words, he wants it to be harder to get. Nice. Maybe if they keep it up, Republicans can drive all teachers into retirement.

Oh, and then there’s right-to-work, which is conservative speak for “anti-union.” This is a law, already on the books, that makes it illegal to require a new employee in a unionized workplace to become a union member. That, of course, makes organizing unions difficult, which is why North Carolina has so few of them. Berger wants to put right-to-work in a constitutional amendment. Given that the law exists, that’s positively ridiculous.

Berger also says he’s not crazy about the state partnering with the federal government or going on its own to run the health insurance marketplace required under federal health care reform. That means the feds will be in charge, because the marketplace is not an option; it’s required.

Resisting more Medicaid

In addition, Berger also doesn’t like the idea of expanding Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the poor, because it’s already overburdened. But under reform, the federal government will pay the costs associated with expanding it.

Berger’s priorities reflect an almost gleeful wish to turn back the clock in North Carolina. Phil Berger knows better, which makes his agenda all the worse.

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