Jenkins: GOP can’t build a legacy by tearing down

jim.jenkins@newsobserver.comMarch 27, 2013 

So I said to the former legislator, a Democrat who unlike many retired voluntarily before Republicans assumed control of the state House and Senate, “That was a pretty moderate budget Gov. Pat McCrory and Art Pope just put together. None of the predicted slashing and burning.”

“ know better than that,” he said. “They’ll (legislators) take that budget, say thank you very much governor, how’s everything, see you later and then they’ll do what they want to do.” He predicted t’was not time to put aside fears of slashing and burning.

These days on Jones Street, the Republicans in Charge too often justify the fears that arise in moderates (and even in some Republicans) when they commence to law-make. Thus far, theirs has been a session obsessed, it seems, with making up for lost time.

The lost time is the 100-plus years since Republicans last ran both houses of the North Carolina General Assembly. They took over in 2010.

But it appears they’re about to catch up. If they want to call it that.

Consider that thus far in their rule, Republicans have, in no particular order, declined state participation in the federal health care exchanges that will be available next year for all Americans. Because they won’t participate, the federal government will come in and run an exchange itself. The battle cry against participating was simply, “Obamacare,” synonymous with treason as far as tea party Republicans are concerned.

The GOP also rejected expanding Medicaid and extended unemployment compensation for North Carolinians out of work. Both free, but connected to the federal government. Boo, federal government!

They did that anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment at a time when polls show more than half of all Americans aren’t against gay marriage anymore. To the rear, harch!

They’re trying to strip state boards and commissions of Democratic members because they’re...well, they’re Democrats. Boo, Democrats!

They’re attacking public school teachers even though most parents really like public school teachers and a fourth of families have a teacher in them. Don’t care. Boo, teachers!

They’ve gone after the University of North Carolina system, talking about cutting the budget and downsizing it. Boo, Carolina! Boo, State!

And the Republicans are even now after what seemed to be a fairly “good for all” deal to turn the Dorothea Dix mental hospital property, owned by the state and leased to Raleigh, into a park. Seems harmless, but parks are outdoors, and we all know what’s outdoors: air, water, nature, little critters and trees! Boo trees, and all the commies who hug them!

But the Republicans do have something in common with Obama. His 2008 slogan was “Yes we can.” Their slogan for a theme to this General Assembly seems to be, “Because we can.”

Perhaps the politics of slash and burn is the way to go, but right now it looks like the way to go home in the next election.

For there is evidence in North Carolina’s fairly recent history that the politics of optimism, of doing things, of spending money, of figuring ways to creatively get things done against all odds...actually works.

Take the Dix controversy for example. There was another time a swatch of Dix Hospital property was transferred from one body to another, in 1984, to create something now world-renowned called Centennial Campus. Gov. Jim Hunt took some heat for it. He just did it, and he was right. It was the politics of optimism

Before that, during his first two terms in 1977-1985, Hunt engaged in intense recruiting of new business, with wild success. He did research and found a need for a biotechnology center, so he saw that one was built. He started the N.C. School of Science and Math for the best and brightest high school students. He started the Smart Start early childhood initiative, which produced tangible results in improving chances in kindergarten and first grade for disadvantaged children.

And when he contemplated a fourth term in 1996, he decided to go one more time with a single primary goal, bringing North Carolina teacher salaries to the national average. Then he did it.

It was the politics of promise, of hope, of faith in people, of determination to do the right thing even if it meant going against the odds and sometimes against the clear will of a majority of people (such as his support for the Equal Rights Amendment). It was, he used to say, about “building the state.”

These days, Republicans, many of them not bad folks but driven foremost by a single-minded Republican ideology of downsizing government and destroying all programs created by Democrats, are carrying around their tool belts and their 2 x 4s, but they’re more interested in destruction than in building.

That might win an election here and there, but it’s not going to leave a legacy behind. At least, not one worth having.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at

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