Hundreds of NC citizens lobby state legislature on variety of causes

lbonner@newsobserver.comApril 9, 2013 

— Hundreds of people came to the legislature Tuesday, motivated by what lawmakers have done and what they are planning to do.

These citizen-activists papered legislative offices with fliers and brochures, making their views known on everything from voting rights to midwife licenses.

There were numerous meetings – impromptu and official. But few meetings of minds.

Representatives from the state’s historically black colleges and universities met with legislators after a breakfast with Gov. Pat McCrory.

McCrory came to Jones Street in the afternoon to talk to the Legislative Black Caucus, which has all Democratic members.

About 300 people representing a coalition of groups including the state NAACP, Democracy North Carolina, the AFL-CIO and others met at the First Baptist Church on South Wilmington Street before marching to the Legislative Building. They wanted the message out that they were opposed to a voter ID law, loosened regulations on charter schools, limits on early voting, more restrictions on organized labor, and high-interest payday loans.

“We have the opportunity to build a progressive movement the likes (of which) have never been seen in the state,” said MaryBe McMillan, secretary-treasurer of state AFL-CIO. “If we don’t build the movement, our state will become unrecognizable.”

The activity was unusual for this year. The legislature so far has not drawn the same level of intense public opposition as it did in 2011, when a wave of protests led to arrests.

So far this session, the General Assembly police have issued eight permits to people or groups for rallies in front of the Legislative Building, and that includes several permits to the same man. In 2011, it had issued 18 by this time, though some groups may have been granted more than one.

For the most part, Tuesday was a day of talk and little agreement between Republicans who control the government and the residents who oppose key points of their agenda.

Some of the issues opposition groups emphasize, such as preserving the Earned Income Tax Credit and adding about 500,000 residents to Medicaid, the government health insurance program, are already lost.

“Many lawmakers have no problem reversing decades of progress or contributing to the steady erosion of critical rights and protections for women and their families,” said NC Women United President Jina Dhillon. The group had members visiting legislators offices.

McCrory spent about a half hour talking to African-American legislators about everything from voter ID, his plans for changes at the Commerce Department, Medicaid and the budget.

After the Black Caucus meeting neither McCrory nor legislators could name specific areas of agreement, but said they want to keep talking.

“We’re having dialogue, and that’s what’s more important than anything,” McCrory said.

It’s unclear whether all the activity changed any legislator’s mind. Both McCrory and Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, were firm in their support for voter ID. Berger said his constituents want voters to show identification before casting ballots, contrary to what they’re hearing from opponents.

“It’s important for us to have photo voter ID,” he said.

Some people also had trouble connecting with the lawmakers they wanted to see.

No one found Rep. Edgar Starnes, the House majority leader.

The Caldwell County Republican is the primary sponsor of a bill that would shorten the early-voting period and end Sunday voting.

And when the Rev. William Barber, president of the N.C. NAACP, tried to find House Speaker Thom Tillis in his office, Tillis slipped out while Barber’s back was turned.

Tillis said later that he’d asked Barber make an appointment for “a meeting, not a media event.”

Tillis walked into his office before answering questions about the opponents’ arguments.

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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