When they got control of the General Assembly, Republicans vowed to drive North Carolina in a new and better direction. Instead, theyre behind the wheel in a demolition derby.
As The News & Observers Rob Christensen reported, GOP leaders on Jones Street are in the process of dismantling every positive Democratic-sponsored program or legislation they can get their hands on. And as result, everyone from public school teachers to families on Medicaid to the scientists at the innovative N.C. Biotechnology Center are going to feel the consequences, some of them very bad consequences indeed, from the Republican knives.
Some of the actions are clearly ideological and partisan: abolition of the Racial Justice Act, for one example. But other actions that have been taken or are under negotiation smack of political immaturity. Theyre just about doing away with anything the Democrats did in the way of innovative or helpful programs just because...the Democrats did it.
Consider: The legendary Gov. Kerr Scott, the squire of Haw River, expanded state unemployment benefits from 20 to 26 weeks in 1951. The benefits are practical as well as humane, because they keep money in the state economy. Republicans are cutting the benefits to a sliding scale of between 12 and 20 weeks. (Theyve also cut the maximum benefit and lost an opportunity to extend federal benefits to the long-term unemployed at no cost to the state.)
Or: The Child Fatality Task Force was created by the legislature under Republican Gov. Jim Martin in 1991 to aim at reducing infant and child deaths. The rate has dropped dramatically. The House wants to end it.
And in the area of enlightened actions to give the public more participation in political financing, Democrats in the legislature in 1977 allowed taxpayers a voluntary check-off on their tax forms to give $3 to a fund to help political parties, and in 2002 created a public financing system for high-level judicial races. They also in 2007 allowed public financing, through a voluntary tax check-off, for Council of State offices of treasurer, insurance commissioner and superintendent of public instruction. Republicans aim to end them all.
These types of actions will hurt people, pure and simple. Theyre destructive and shortsighted and hardly worthy of a state that has long prided itself in being ahead of other states in the Deep South, a part of what once was called the New South, a place that had overcome narrow-minded leadership driven by take-no-prisoners ideology.
So much for that.
The tea party element of the Republican Party that now seems to have legislative GOP leaders scared to death is all about the politics of revenge and destruction. Whats their cheer? Push us back, push us back, way back...
Do they get it?
Some actions are simply astonishing, including a debate centered on tax cuts and reform thats so utterly confusing that some of the supporters of it dont even seem to understand it. Its at a point where the outcome is liable to be a tax break for business and the wealthy that will blow a hole in the budget, one that presumably will be closed on the backs of the middle class.
And what is it about these Republicans and the environment? Air and water quality, including protection of the states spectacular and valuable shore line, ought to be a bipartisan no-brainer. But some in the state Senate, for example, want to allow unlimited jetties on the state coast which might increase beach erosion. Other lawmakers want to repeal rules protecting water quality at Jordan Lake.
In the spirit of leaving no worthy program untouched, state senators even want to kill the 72-year-old measure that provided teachers who got graduate degrees a 10 percent salary increase. Teaching assistants for second and third grade are on the block with senators and Gov. Pat McCrory.
Some destructive actions are still up in the air, of course, but hopes that cooler heads will prevail are dim. This edition of the General Assembly has been a monument to the politics of destruction. Except no one builds monuments to that.